Late Free Throws Vault Vikings Past Tigers on Opening Night


MOSSYROCK — On a night the Mossyrock girls basketball program honored the memory of longtime former coach Gary Stamper, it was all too fitting the Vikings gutted out an all-too-familiar 44-42 win over former league nemesis Napavine Thursday night at home to open their season. 

Speakers before the game commented on Stamper’s teams trudging out crucial wins, including a state championship involving clutch free throws to ice a game late. Thursday night in Mossyrock, Stamper would have been proud of the way the Vikings found a way to win in their opener. 

Down by three with a minute and a half remaining, both McKenna Torrey and Caelyn Marshall split free throws to cut the lead to one, and star guard Payton Torrey did the rest, taking the lead on a pair of free throws with 37 seconds remaining, and icing the game with a free throw late to give the Vikings a 1-0 record. 

“I’m still not sure the outcome overall of our free throws was the best percentage, but to hit those when it mattered at the end is a testament to these girls having the confidence in close games like this,” Vikings coach Autumn Moorcroft said. “Especially this early in the season, it’s awesome. We have to get some more conditioning in and focus on free throws in practice, though.”

It was an uphill battle all night for the Vikings, which struggled to shoot the ball — just 38.5% from the floor and 44.8% from the foul line — but Payton Torrey’s game-high 24 points where enough to help the Vikings to a win. The senior went 9 of 13 from the charity stripe, and made seven of her 13 shots overall to help guide Mossyrock to a win. Marshall added 13 points on 50% shooting from the field. 

“Napavine’s a great team,” Moorcroft said. “They’re well-coached, they’re always super aggressive, so we were prepared for that mentally but physically first game of the season you run into those kinds of jitters. To be able to grind it out at the end and get the win to start the season is really big for our confidence.”

Down by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Vikings made a late push in the final minute of the second quarter, going on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just six at the half, and made their slow final push for the win in the second half. 

“I got on them a little bit during a timeout, we needed to focus up defensively,” Moorcroft said. “That’s how we were going to get our offense going, we got a couple of quick stops and converted them into lay-ins and got back in it. It gave the girls some confidence.”

Payton Torrey also added a team-high seven rebounds. 

On the other end, a Napavine team that held the lead for virtually the entire game was dismayed with a late collapse, but happy with the effort and energy in its first game of the season. Morgan Hamilton led the Tigers with 16 points, seven boards, and three steals, and Keira O’Neill nearly had a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. 

But the two numbers that will come back to haunt Napavine were its turnovers — the Tigers had 24 to Mossy’s 15 — and fouls. The Tigers racked up 25 total team fouls, giving the Vikings too many chances to win the game at the line. 

“We weren’t smart tonight, this team has grown a lot but tonight we didn’t have great basketball IQ, and we’ll work on that and get better each game,” Tigers coach Shane Schutz said. “I’m proud of how they competed, they fought hard, we just have to be smarter and continue to get better.”

But following a tribute to Stamper, led by former players, current coaches, and broadcasters alike, Thursday night’s game was perfectly fit for the occasion. Schutz went out of his way to acknowledge the crowd and atmosphere in what felt like a game in March, in early December. 

“It was a great atmosphere for girls basketball to have all those people here for Gary,” Schutz said. “He’d be proud of a game like this and he’d be proud of his Vikings, kudos to the Mossyrock community and their program, it was a great night. 

“That’s a tribute to Mossyrock. Those former Gary Stamper teams would find a way in the second half to win and that was relevant tonight. It was probably fitting, unfortunately for us.”