When faced with a pressure situation on the basketball court, West Valley's Hannah Mattson tries to remain calm and do what's best for her team.
On Friday, the best thing for the Wolfpack turned out to be Mattson making big play after big play in the closing minutes of a 42-35 semifinal win over Juneau-Douglas in the Class 4A state tournament at the Sullivan Arena.
The win denied Juneau a third straight trip to the championship game and put West Valley in a Saturday showdown with defending state champion Wasilla, which beat Colony 47-32 in the other semifinal.
West Valley will be making its first appearance in the championship game and Wasilla will be making its third straight. It will be the second meeting between the teams this season; Wasilla won last month's meeting 47-38.
"You gotta bring you're A-game," Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax said. "It's all about strategy."
The Wolfpack never trailed by more than six points in the second half but struggled to make shots until Mattson nailed a 3-pointer to pull her team within a point, 33-32 with 2:45 to play.
"I was thinking 'There it is, it's finally here,' " Mattson said. "I felt like that shot put us back in the game."
Mattson, who finished with a game-high 16 points, made one of her six steals on Juneau's next possession. She drove for a bucket and missed but teammate Maddison Ackiss got the rebound and the putback to give West Valley its first lead of the fourth quarter, 34-33.
Less than a minute later, Mattson hit a short jumper to put West Valley up 36-33 with 1:49 remaining. After a layup from Juneau's Nicole George cut the lead back to one, Mattson sank two free throws to put her team up 38-35 with 39 seconds left.
West Valley put the game away when Jill Phillips made a steal and set up a fast break that resulted in Marina Washburn (eight points) making a trip to the free throw line. Washburn's first free throw bounced around the rim before falling through and giving the Wolfpack a four-point lead with 15.9 seconds remaining.
"I was really, really nervous and it looked like it wasn't going in," Washburn said.
Washburn calmly sank the next free throw to put West Valley up 40-35.
Esra Siddeek led Juneau with 13 points, showing off a nice shooting touch on a couple of treys. She said the loss was tough to take but gave credit to the West Valley defense.
"We froze when they started pressing," she said.
Wasilla's semifinal win was never in doubt. The tournament's top seed, the Warriors rolled to a big early lead behind a strong performance from junior guard Alexis Imoe.
"I'm always happy when we beat Colony," Hebert-Truax said. "They're such a cross-town rival for us."
Imoe finished with a game-high 15 points and six assists for Wasilla, and she seemed to be everywhere in the early going as the Warriors turned a 19-6 first-quarter lead into a 35-11 halftime lead.
"She runs the offense for us," Hebert-Truax said. "If we are struggling and need a basket, she seems to get it or get the ball to who it needs to go to."
Colony, led by 10 points from Saige Stefanski, put together 16-1 run to start the third quarter, narrowing the gap to 38-27. Any hope of a Colony comeback seemed to be put to rest, however, when Imoe capped a 7-0 Wasilla run with a 3-pointer from the left wing and extended the Warriors' lead back to 45-27.
"It felt good," Imoe said of the trey, "I think it was a big boost for us."
Alysha Devine added 11 points for the Warriors, mostly depositing close-range shots from the post. Led by Pherrari Brumbaugh's six steals, the Warriors defense came up with 18 total thefts and won the turnover battle 23-13.
Mary Klapperich, one of Colony's top scorers this season, was held to just six points on four 3-point shot attempts, and her difficulty finding open shots was often a direct result of being guarded by Imoe.
"She does everything," Hebert-Truax said of Imoe. "Defensive-wise, she played great for us. She did let Klapperich get off a couple of threes, so I'll have to talk to her about that."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.