It took a little more than a half of play, but Stillwater finally showed the rest of the state why they have been so highly-regarded this season.
With Gophers-signee Sara Scalia asserting herself on the offensive end of the floor and the Ponies playing the type of pressure defense that coach Willie Taylor has preached all season, they went on a 20-4 run midway through the season half, beating defending champion Eastview 65-52 in the Class 4A semifinals Thursday at Williams Arena.
Though the first three halves of state-tournament play, Scalia — Lindsay Whalen's first in-state recruit — may have been trying too hard to show she deserved the scholarship, forcing things that weren't there. She had hit just five of her first 28 shots.
Things began clicking for Scalia in the second half.
With Stillwater trailing 32-25, Scalia went on run by herself, scoring six straight points to cut the deficit to one, 32-31.
Her success seemed to energize the entire Stillwater roster. The Ponies pressure defense started to have an effect on Eastview, which began turning the ball over and missing shots they had made previously.
Junior guard Grace Cote hit a three- pointer with 9:30 to go, tying the score 37-37.
Scalia followed with a steal and basket, giving Stillwater its first lead since midway through the first half.
After an Eastview basketball tied the game at 39, Stillwater (28-2) put the game away with a 10-2 run, getting four points each from Scalia and junior post Liza Karlen.
Scalia finished with 22 points, 20 of them in the second half. Karlen added 16 points and a physical presence inside and lightning-quick guard Alexis Pratt had 15 points.
Eastview (25-6), making its eighth-straight state tournament appearance, was led Lauren Glas' 14 points and Macy Guebert's 12.
Stillwater, making its first state tournament trip in 31 years, advanced to the championship game for the first time.