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Cleveland girls again show they are best in 3A

TACOMA – Expectations run high in the Cleveland High School girls basketball program.

And the Eagles continue to live up to them.

Behind dazzling performances from its dynamic duo Saturday, top-ranked Cleveland claimed its second straight Class 3A state championship and third in the past five years.

Senior guards Makala Roper and MyMy Ladd combined for 33 points to lead the Eagles past Bishop Blanchet, 54-45, in an all-Metro League final at the Tacoma Dome.

“When you play high-school basketball, you should expect to go to the state championship, and you should work toward that,” said coach Stephenie Wheeler-Smith, now in her sixth season. “I just don’t believe in playing basketball and not going to the state tournament at the end of the year. I just don’t.

“When I first came to Cleveland my goal was to get their minds wrapped around the fact that they need to be competing at a level that gets them to the state tournament. I mean, why do you play high-school basketball? And they understand that now, the kids that are here now, and the kids that are watching these players play are seeing it and wanting to be a part of it, and that’s the biggest thing for me. We want kids to keep coming here. We want to continue to build our program. We want parents to understand we’re not just coaches. We actual care about the individual kid.”

Roper and Ladd scored 11 apiece in the first half as the Eagles (27-2) built a 33-25 lead that the poor-shooting Braves (24-5) never recovered from. Roper, who has signed with the UC Santa Barbara, finished with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals to earn MVP honors for the second straight year. Ladd, headed to San Jose State, had 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two assists and was also an all-tournament first-team choice.

The Eagles, who have now won 53 consecutive games against in-state opponents, played without senior starter Alexia Mefi, who severely sprained her right wrist in Friday’s semifinals. Juniors Joyce Harrell (eight points, nine rebounds) and Jayde Christopher (eight points, seven assists, three steals) helped fill the void.

Young Blanchet, back in the tournament for the first time since 2004, made only 11 of 25 free throws (two of the final 10) and missed multiple inside shots. Jadyn Bush, voted to the all-tourney first team, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, despite long stretches on the bench because of fouls. Taylor Chambers also scored 10 and was a second-team selection. Both are just freshmen.

Senior Caitlyn Dixon added eight points, four rebounds and four assists, while sophomore Bella Kemp, Shawn Kemp’s daughter, contributed seven points and eight rebounds.

The Braves, who lost twice earlier to Cleveland by wider margins, trailed just 45-42 with 4:28 left in the game and went without a field goal the rest of the way. Coach Bryan Willison lamented the missed opportunities, but was pleased with the effort and season overall.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” he said. “The way these guys came together was just awesome.”

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