3A Girls Blanchet Catholic Vs. Salem Academy

Blanchett Catholic's Bailey Hittner beats Salem Academy's Chloe Baker (22) and Jamie VanderStoel to a rebound Friday during the girls Class 3A state basketball tournament semifinal game at Marshfield High School.

COOS BAY — There are no secrets when Blanchet Catholic and Salem Academy clash in girls basketball, so it comes down to execution.

In the Class 3A semifinals Friday night, the Cavaliers were a little better, beating the rival Crusaders 37-32 to advance to the championship game at Marshfield High School. Blanchet Catholic faces Clatskanie at 9 p.m. Saturday, trying to win its second title in three years.

“I’m just so happy right now,” Blanchet Catholic’s Trinity Phipps said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”

The Cavaliers, who start all seniors, returned their entire starting group from last year. And all eight seniors on the roster were part of the champion team back in 2017.

“Being in the championship game as seniors is crazy,” said Ana Coronado. “It’s amazing to be here again.

“Just to be here is an honor. Every senior wants to go out with a bang.”

Salem Academy and Blanchet Catholic were playing for the fourth time this year (Salem Academy won two of the first three) and meeting in the semifinals for the third straight year (they had split the previous two).

“It’s hard to come out and beat people you respect,” Salem Academy coach Ben Brown said. “I know it goes both ways. These girls the last four years have been battling.”

He said both teams know every play.

And who to key on.

Blanchet Catholic put its focus on Salem Academy leaders Kirsten Koehnke and Grace Brown, with Bailey Hittner matching Koehnke step-for-step and Phipps drawing the assignment on Brown.

“Grace is an awesome player,” Blanchet Catholic coach Ron Hittner said. “Trinity did a great job holding her down.”

Brown did not score in the game. And Koehnke struggled most of the game under Hittner’s pressure.

With Salem Academy not scoring well, Blanchet Catholic built a lead as big as 10 points early in the fourth.

Koehnke finally got free twice, scoring a four-point play and then hitting a 3-pointer.

But Salem Academy could never get closer than three down. Coronado scored on a drive and then, after Koehnke scored for the Crusaders, Hittner hit a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left for the final points.

“It’s kind of her thing,” Coronado said of Hittner taking key free throws. “We trust her.”

Ron Hittner said he told his team to expect a run by the Crusaders.

“Their run came very late,” he said. “We withstood that. It was our experience stepping up and finishing the game.”

“We kept our composure at the end,” Phipps said. “Coach talks about how we’re the most experienced team here.”

Blanchet Catholic built its lead primarily with the work of Coronado, who finished with a team-best 14 points. Hailey Ostby added 10 in the win.

The defense on Koehnke helped that lead grow, and Coronado praised Bailey Hittner for that.

“We trusted Bailey to do what she had to do,” Coronado said. “She did her job.”

Koehnke still finished with 17 points for the Crusaders, but it took her 21 shots to get there. Jamie VanderStoel added seven points and eight rebounds.

Now the Cavaliers face a Clatskanie team they beat in the quarterfinals last year.

“They’re a good team,” Phipps said, in particular pointing out Clatskanie stars Olivia Sprague and Shelby Blodgett. “We’re going to have to put together a good game plan.”

Salem Academy will try to bounce back in the third-place game against Burns which is No. 1 in the power rankings. That game is scheduled to tip at 1:15 p.m.

Ben Brown said he expects his team will rebound well. The Crusaders overcame the losses of a few key seniors last year to reach the semifinals for the fifth time in a row.

“I’m proud of these girls working so hard all year long,” he said.

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Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or by email at john.gunther@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jguntherworld.