Girls Basketball Menu / Archvies
- Written by Bruce McCain
- Published on February 25, 2013
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Regis Looks for 3 (or 4)-Peat; BMC Sends All Four Seeds to Pendleton
Defending champs Regis goes for its third straight 2A title, and fourth straight overall. Meanwhile, the Blue Mountain Conference placed all four of its seeds into each of the quarterfinal games, with one of them celebrating their coach's 400th victory. A freshman post player may steal the show, while three girls’ teams – Oakland, Pilot Rock and Western Mennonite – join their boys’ counterparts at the 2013 OSAA 2A championships.
Below we’ll preview the teams and quarterfinal games that begin Thursday, February 28 at the Pendleton Convention Center.
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#1 Lost River vs. #6 Heppner – Thursday Feb 28 at 1:30 pm
The girls’ quarterfinal round opens with the top-ranked 2A team from Southern Oregon meeting one of four BMC teams with a strong local following.
Lost River brings the best overall record (24-3) and #1 RPI ranking to Pendleton in the Raiders’ first trip to the finals site since 2001, when the tournament was a 16-team bracket. Playing in the 3A/2A SCL hybrid, only thirteen of Lost River’s 27 games were against 2A opponents, with the Raiders going 11-2. The balance of coach Casey Williams’ schedule was a mix of 3A and 1A Oregon schools, along with the cross-border games with Yreka and Butte Valley, CA which play many of Oregon southern border small schools each year.
Because of the limited number of schools in the dreaded hybrid “leagues,” each team is forced to play each other more than twice. The Raiders took their series with Bonanza, 2-1, while splitting two games with Gold Beach. Lost River also split with 3A Lakeview, which finished its season at 15-8. The Raider’s most impressive victory was a 45-40 road win at St. Mary’s of Medford, currently the #3 team in 3A and a quarterfinalist at Coos Bay.
The Raiders are led by junior guard Lexie Turner, the SCL POY and junior Megan Parks, honored as the top defensive player in the SCL this year. Williams took league COY honors and has much to look forward to with this group, many of whom have been playing together since grade school. With only one senior on the roster, Lost River looks to be set for a strong run at Pendleton this year and next.
Heppner returns to Pendleton for the first time since 2010 when the Mustangs finished fourth in what proved to be former coach Mark Dowdy’s last trip to the convention center. Dowdy’s sudden and tragic death in January 2011 left a huge void at the school, in the community and within the ranks of those who follow small school athletics. With head coach Jeromy Wilson at the helm, the Mustangs put together a 19-6 season thus far, including a 12-4 record in the BMC, good enough for a 3-way tie for second place with Pilot Rock and Union.
However, a 51-39 loss to Union in the BMC district playoffs gave Heppner the BMC #4 seed and a road play-in game at Vernonia, the Northwest League champions. The Mustangs had little trouble with the Loggers in a dominating 62-33 win that best illustrated how far the NWL has fallen from recent years, while also showing the emergence of the BMC as a girls’ powerhouse conference. Like most BMC schools, Heppner rarely plays an opponent west of the John Day River. But the Mustangs’ convincing win at Vernonia showed that even a #4 seed from the East can hold its own on the road against a league champion, however weak that league may be.
Seniors Baily Bennett (BMC 1st team) and Alana Wilson (BMC 2nd team) lead a balanced Heppner offense, with help from sophomore Kelly Wilson, junior Blake Greenup (BMC HM), senior Emma Osmin and 5-10 sophomore post Maddie Lindsay. Heppner is one of four BMC teams in this tournament who spent the season beating up on each other. Both Lost River and Heppner may be facing their toughest test of the season.
#5 Union vs. #4 Oakland – Thursday Feb 28 at 3:15 pm
The afternoon quarterfinal pits the two most closely matched teams in terms of RPI. Even for an afternoon game, the crowd should be spirited, given the BMC flavor of this bracket, as well as Oakland having both boys and girls teams, and their families, at Pendleton. This game features 2A’s second highest scoring offense against the top scoring defense. Like they say… something’s gotta give.
Union (19-7) finished tied in the final BMC standing with Heppner and Pilot Rock. The Lady Cats ended up as the BMC #3 seed and dispatched the MVC’s North Douglas, 63-49, in the play-in round. That game may have given Union coach Tessa Nicholson a boost, considering North Douglas had upset Oakland, 38-37, in the MVC districts and her Lady Cats handled the Warriors with relative ease. But anyone at Pendleton last year knows better, as discussed below.
Union’s schedule appears even more geographically limited than most BMC teams. The Lady Cats are 15-5 in 2A games, with the remaining six games coming against 1A schools, mostly in the Old Oregon League. Union did not play any team above the 2A level this season. But the level of play in the BMC itself made up for the lack of a tough nonleague schedule. Union has played in several tight games this season, including one of three wins over Pilot Rock in which the Lady Cats overcame a 24-point deficit to beat the Rockets, 46-44. But Pilot Rock had the final word in their fourth meeting, when Union lost, 41-35, in the BMC districts.
Nicholson’s team lead the BMC in team scoring, averaging 51.5 ppg, second only to Regis’ 52.8. A solid trio of seniors in Kaci Langford (BMC HM), Dani Sturm (BMC 2nd team) and Amber Fiorito form the foundation. But the spark for the Lady Cats comes from sophomore Keesha Sarman, the BMC co-POY who may be the most exciting young player to come out of Union since Devyn Christensen’s freshman year (Christensen later transferred to Caldwell, Idaho and in now a senior playing at Utah State). Union returns to Pendleton for the first time since 2007, which ended early, 0-2. The Lady Cats face a program that is making its fourth Pendleton appearance in five years.
Oakland girls hoops simply has not received the recognition – some might say respect – it deserves, particularly when playing in the Mountain View Conference, often eclipsed by the shadow of the Tri-River Conference. But Oaker coach Marita Benzel returns to Pendleton with almost all of her 4th place team intact from last season. Losing only post and 2nd team all-state player Michelle Cottier to graduation, Benzel’s team is a veteran group that knows what the Pendleton environment is all about. This year the Oakers posted an impressive 21-4 overall record and a perfect 12-0 mark in regular season MVC play. Oakland lost only two games to 2A opponents, a 41-40 early loss to Gold Beach and a 38-37 loss to North Douglas in the MVC districts. The Oakers also dropped a 45-41 game to 3A Bandon, and in one of the more ambitious scheduling gambits, Oakland squared off against 4A Sutherlin, currently 24-0 and ranked #2 in 4A. Despite the 42-18 loss, Oakland proved it is willing to play outside the MVC and up a classification to get ready for post season.
The key to Oakland’s success, besides veteran experience, is team defense. The Oakers lead all of 2A in team scoring defense, surrendering only 28.0 ppg or an average of less than one point per minute. Someone once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” The Oakers have demonstrated they can hold any team in check this season, which comes in handy at Pendleton.
Leading the Oakers is senior guard Brooke Spencer (see photo at left), a 2nd team all-state player in 2012 and deadly outside shooter who presents a difficult assignment for anyone guarding her. Spencer was the fourth leading scorer at Pendleton last year, averaging 11.0 ppg for the tournament. Spencer gets plenty of help from senior Savannah Swan and sophomore Cora Gallup, arguably the best freshman at Pendleton in 2012. In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Oakland failed to win its quarterfinal opener. If Oakland is to improve on last year’s fourth place finish, the Oakers must stay clear of the left side of the bracket.
#3 Regis vs. #8 Pilot Rock – Thursday Feb 28 at 6:30 pm
The dinner time quarterfinal features a rebuilt defending champion against another local favorite. One team is on a seven-game win streak, while the other has dropped two in a row, and which is which may surprise you. This is also the first meeting between the two schools since the 2011 tournament, when Regis defeated Pilot Rock, 54-39, in a semifinal game. Finally, if someone was asked to predict whether Regis or Pilot Rock would send both its boys and girls teams to Pendleton, probably no one outside Umatilla County would have answered that question correctly.
Regis has won back-to-back 2A girls basketball titles, and with the 3A championship in 2010, the Rams are seeking their fourth consecutive girls basketball title. Getting there this season has required a massive rebuilding of a team that lost four senior starters from those championship teams. But coaches Jason and Jeff Koehnke had a nucleus player in junior Jesse Morris (see photo at left), a starter from last season as a sophomore and the TRC POY this year. With no seniors on this year’s roster, the Koehnke’s turned to last year’s seldom used underclassmen to pick up the torch for Regis. Juniors Becca and Beth Lorenz, Kim Webb, sophomore Monca Webb and freshman Erin Malcom have come together to lead Regis to a 23-3 overall record.
The Rams were undefeated against 2A competition until Western Mennonite snapped a 19-game winning streak with back-to-back TRC wins at the end of the season. Regis’ only other loss was at the hands of 3A #1 Valley Catholic in early December. But the Rams also defeated Santiam Christian, Willamina and Scio, all three of which are in the 3A quarterfinal bracket at Coos Bay.
Regis leads all of 2A in scoring at 52.8 ppg, while Pilot Rock is not far behind at 49.1. This may be the only girls’ quarterfinal game that may require 50 points to win.
Pilot Rock may be the hottest team in this tournament. At 22-5 overall, the Rockets finished 12-4 in BMC play in that 3-way tie with Union and Heppner. But in the BMC districts, coach Butch Wilson’s team knocked off Union, 41-35, then stunned Enterprise, 48-39, to capture the BMC #1 seed and a first round home play-in game against Santiam from the TRC. The Wolverines finished 3rd at Pendleton behind Regis and Scio, and returned virtually its entire team this season. Most observers figured Santiam would have little trouble on the road against a BMC team, especially since the game would be played on a local, but neutral court at Blue Mountain Community College, on the bluff overlooking the finals site. But the Rockets served notice the BMC is no fluke this year, sending the Wolverines back to Mill City empty handed.
In a pattern that should be familiar by now, Pilot Rock played twenty 2A games, going 15-5, while filling the remainder of the schedule with mostly 1A OOL teams in the area. But as the play-in round demonstrated, the BMC teams appear to have taken a page from the TRC, with tough intra-league play hardening those teams for playoff competition.
The Rockets’ roster is lean and relatively young, with only one senior, Ginni Harrison (BMC 2nd team). A trio of juniors, Caitlin Zyph (BMC 1st team), Britteny Taylor (BMC HM) and Jessie Doherty, have combined with freshman post Madison Dave to power the Rockets this season. But with only seven players, there is little margin for illness, injury or even foul trouble. Because the girls this year begin on Thursday, to win the title, a team must play and win three games in three nights against ever-increasing competition. Conditioning and bench strength often play a role in a successful championship run.
#7 Enterprise vs #2 Western Mennonite – Thursday Feb 28 at 8:15 pm
The quarterfinal nightcap may be the most intriguing matchup of opening day. The fourth and final BMC team squares off against a group of energetic and overachieving youngsters, including a freshman post that looks and plays beyond her years. This game also presents the opportunity for Enterprise coach Mike Crawford to return to the Convention Center with 400 career wins, thanks to an unanticipated detour that took him and his team to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Enterprise took a long route to get to Pendleton, approximately 1,300 miles without leaving the state. After finishing the BMC regular season at 14-2, the Outlaws awaited one of the three 12-4 teams to emerge as its district opponent. That proved to be Pilot Rock, which was 0-2 against Enterprise in the regular season. But when the Rockets upset the Outlaws, 48-39, in the BMC championship game, that set in motion a road trip that literally could only have been invented at OSAA headquarters in Wilsonville.
Despite owning a #7 RPI compared to Gold Beach’s #10, the bracket was re-seeded to accommodate the automatic home game for league champions and to avoid first round games against same-league opponents. The result was Enterprise traveling nearly 650 miles from the Northeast corner of the state to the Southwest corner – and back. All to play a game that would take about 90 minutes. But the trip was worth it as the Outlaws returned triumphant following a 46-39 road victory over the Panthers. The victory also gave 25-year head coach Mike Crawford’s his 400th career victory at Enterprise. While not as sweet as celebrating with a district championship at PCC, his team ensured this season would not end with their coach stuck at 399 wins.
Enterprise is making its fourth Pendleton appearance in five years. Last year, the Outlaws opened on opposite ends of two blowouts, thumping Riddle, 64-22, in the opener before getting steamrolled by Scio, 70-38, in the semi’s. In an uninspiring 3rd-5th place game, Santiam edged the Outlaws, 29-22, in a game the rules say had to have a winner.
This year, Crawford & Co. seek to give their deserving fans something more. And that starts with the play of senior Marta Stangel, a 2nd team all-state selection in 2012 and BMC co-POY this season. Stangel also has the chance and challenge of redeeming a fairly dismal tournament last year. The all-star player had five points in the opener, but was held to a single free throw made against Scio. A 10-point effort against Santiam gave her 16 points in three games. While no high school player should be expected to carry an entire team, it’s no secret that as goes Stangel, go the Outlaws. Fortunately, she has another crack finishing her career on a higher note than last year.
One pleasant surprise from last year’s tournament was the play of sophomore Hayley Riggs. As a junior this season, Riggs continued to impress the BMC coaches, who honored her with a 1st team selection. Senior Elsa Steen picked up BMC 2nd team honors, while Crawford earned BMC Coach-of-the-Year from his peers.
(L) Enterprises' Elsa Steen at Pendleton in 2012; (R) Pioneer freshman Emma Gibb makes her debut in 2013
Western Mennonite is best known for its boys program that has seen coach Gary Hull bring many talented teams and players to the Pendleton Convention Center. The Pioneer girls’ program had a flash of success in 2009 with a one-year wonder squad featuring seniors Adria Ivanitsky and Rebeka Penrose. The Lady Pio’s have not been back since, but that streak may change beginning this year.
Coach Robby Gilliam, who played for Hull, as did girls’ assistant coach Mike Woodard, brings an entertaining bunch of youngsters to Pendleton who appear wholly unfazed by the competition or their surroundings. The Pioneers opened the season with a 20-point win over 3A Willamina, which will play Vale in the 3A tournament at the same time as the Enterprise-WM game. That win began an 8-0 start until derailed by Oakland, 38-32. The rest of the season was a typical TRC slugfest, splitting series with Regis and Santiam, with a one-point loss to Kennedy tossed into the mix. The result is a 23-4 record and #2 RPI for a team whose top two players are a sophomore guard and freshman post.
Commanding the floor for Gilliam is sophomore guard Jenna Christensen, a TRC 1st team pick who is as comfortable launching 3-pointers from the top of the key as she is driving and dishing assists when defenses collapse on her. Many of those assists end up in the hands of freshman Emma Gibb, a 6-2 post and TRC 1st team selection. Gibb’s size, speed, coordination and knowledge of the game as a 9th grader hasn’t been seen in the TRC – or even 2A – since Santiam’s Heidi Halemeier (2005-2009). And the youth parade continues with freshman Kari Louthan (TRC 2nd team), 6-2 sophomore Emily Loyd (TRC 3rd team), and senior Christy Rausch (TRC HM).
For 2A fans who want to see a pair of classic TRC vs. BMC contests, the place to be next Thursday night is at the Pendleton Convention Center. And the semifinal produced by those two games should be even better.
All Photos by Bruce McCain