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Steward's 32 points lead Bellevue girls back to state semi finals with win over Sunnyside | Prep basketball news
Bellevue junior Mandy Steward took a hurried step backwards, a flash of uncertainty in her eye as they closed in.
"Sorry," she said to a group of advancing reporters. "I just got rattled."
A pack of media approaching the unsuspecting guard was the only thing that rattled Steward Thursday in the Tacoma Dome, as she scored a game and career high 32 points to help the Wolverines advance to the 3A state semi finals with a hard earned 66-58 win over Sunnyside.
Bellevue was without head coach Leah Krautter for much of its Regional and quarterfinal preparation, as the head coach prepared to give birth to her first child. She did exactly that early Thursday afternoon, keeping her from the sidelines and putting longtime assistant coach Noah Wulbert in charge.
"We've anticipated this all season," said the Bellevue assistant, who has spent more than a decade in the KingCo conference and seven years on Wolverine Way. "We've shared the team, and she's put a lot of trust in us."
The Wolverines never surrendered the lead, but were pushed to the brink down the stretch, as Sunnyside tied things up at 50 with less than five minutes remaining. Bellevue led by as many as eight points during the third quarter, before the Grizzlies made their run.
They knotted things at 44 with just under a minute in the third quarter, before a Shelby Cansler free throw put her team back up one. And when they pulled even again, Steward rattled off seven straight points in under a minute to push the lead back to six.
"Mandy is the kind of kid that just refuses to lose," Wulbert said. "She is a tremendous shooter, super aggressive and every time they made a run, she got us back in."
Steward went 10-17 from the floor and hitting five three-pointers and seven of her eight free throws.
"All I did was stand in the corner," she said, lauding the effort of her teammates to find her open looks. "It was my team."
Cansler finished with 15 points and Dejah Rogers added 11 in the win, which sends Bellevue to the rematch with Cleveland they have openly talked about throughout the season.
The top-ranked Eagles, which advanced past the Wolverines in last year's state semi finals and also beat them in this year's district title game, handled Lincoln to get back to the semis.
"We've talked about it all year," Wulbert said of getting Cleveland in Tacoma. "You've got to give them their respect."
While he had not yet let Krautter know of the win, Wulbert said the staff had passed along live links to follow online, and would not rule out the chance she could return to the sideline before the tournament concludes Saturday.
"Knowing Leah," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me. She's desperate to get here"
Bellevue led early and seemed to be in control headed into the final ten minutes, but when Sunnyside made its charge and tied the game late, Wulbert said the frustration was obvious in the body language of his players.
"We started to break apart," he said. "we started pointing fingers at each other."
That didn't last long, however; thanks to the inspiration of senior reserve Sierra Sublett.
One of only two Wolverines to not play in the game, Wulbert said Sublett remained engaged to the point of addressing the team in a timeout during a particularly difficult stretch.
"She just kind of understood this isn't how we've worked all year long," Wulbert said of Sublett. "We worked too hard to give it up."
Steward said she was guilty of falling victim to the wave of Sunnyside mojo when they crawled back into the game late. But with the urging of Sublett and motivation of extending their season, the trial was short lived.
"I was kind of getting down," she admitted. "My team pulled me back up, got my mind right and we pulled it through."