NORTH BEND – It wasn’t the championship game. But, for the four seniors starting for Portland Adventist Academy, the girls’ consolation fourth-place trophy game seemed like a close substitute.
After falling in this game two years in a row, the Cougars turned in a dominant 18-9 fourth quarter advantage to pull away from a tenacious Nyssa Bulldog squad and earn a 52-43 victory at North Bend High School on Saturday night.
“The past two years we’ve gotten sixth, so this is an accomplishment,” Tori Johnson said, amid a jubilant throng after the game. “Fourth feels like first place to us right now, we are all really happy.”
That happiness was hard-earned over three tough games in three days. Nyssa provided the final challenge, after a heart-breaking opening day loss to eventual state champion Blanchet Catholic (by two points) and a gritty, bounce-back day two victory over Lakeview.
Bulldogs head coach Jeremy Chamberlain knew his squad was in for a battle, and a match-up nightmare.
“They have so many guards against our ‘bigs.’ They shoot the ball well. We knew that defensively we were going to have our hands full, and foul trouble hurt us a little bit tonight. But, all in all, the girls played hard and they never gave up.”
In fact, the game was a back-and-forth affair for three quarters. There was a total of 11 lead changes, although there were times it looked as though the Cougars might break it open.
Late in the third quarter, a Johnson layup – part of a 6-0 run – had stretched the lead to five points.
But, after a Nyssa timeout, one of the smallest players on the court hit two of the biggest 3-pointers of the game. The second 3-pointer from 5-foot-2 sophomore Alexia Arredondo tied the game at 34 heading into the final quarter, and had such a huge arch it could have hit low-flying aircraft if the game had been played outside.
In the end, it merely set the stage for the seniors from Portland Adventist Academy to take over.
And they did it on both ends of the floor. While junior wing Emma MacLachlan scored the first four points of the quarter for the Cougars, a change to the team defense helped keep Nyssa off the scoreboard for almost four minutes.
“We started switching those high screens and we really started helping from the weak side on the post player and that is where we got some really good stops and I think those two adjustments late really helped out a lot,” head coach Ty Johnson said.
By the time that Nyssa’s Kierra Hernandez hit back-to-back inside buckets, four of her eight points on the night, it was becoming clear that the Cougars were now in control.
While Nyssa executed well for three quarters, Chamberlain said the Bulldogs just didn’t execute like they wanted to down the stretch.
And while he was proud of his whole team’s effort, he wanted to make sure everyone noticed the effort of one his seniors that he says all-too-often has gone unnoticed.
“Charlina Lancaster didn’t get a lot of minutes tonight but every single night she gets put on the other team’s best player. It doesn’t matter who we are playing. And I hope throughout this tournament people have gotten to notice that she is a pretty good defender. She will never make an all-tournament team, but she works her tail off every single night and with no recognition, but we really appreciate her.”
For the Cougars, they were carried by their seniors throughout the tournament. Sarah Halversen finished her high school career with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), Tori Johnson had 13 and nine, Kira LaSage finished with 10 and seven, and Kai Chamberlain hit two big 3-pointers en route to an eight-point night.
“I’m proud of my seniors, they really put three great games together here. They just lost that first one by a hair,” Ty Johnson said. “We play our best when we are balanced inside and out and between those players. We’re close to 150 points in three games, that is a team that’s clicking and as a group – being together for so long – they just found their stride.”