COOS BAY — The Blanchet Catholic Cavaliers girls basketball team arrived at the Class 3A State Tournament as underdogs but they leave as champions after a stunning 36-34 victory over two-time defending champions Dayton Pirates.
“Our coach always calls it flying under the radar,” said senior guard Sophia Poole, who finished with four points, seven rebounds and three steals. “We know nobody expected us to win.”
That included members of the Cavaliers’ fan base, who found their team trailing by 13 points entering the final quarter of play.
“We didn’t panic,” Poole said. “We had to play our game.”
Dayton led 31-18 going into the fourth quarter and looked well on their way to claiming their third consecutive title after a 3-pointer by Jaden Moore gave the Pirates a 34-20 lead with 7:34 to go. But the slumbering Blanchet offense caught fire, going on a 16-0 run to close the game.
Ana Coronado led the way, scoring nine of her 13 points in the quarter, while also finishing with nine rebounds and four steals.
Emily Collier provided a noticeable spark all game, diving for loose balls and showcasing a clinic of sticking to Pirates players’ hips. Her six points in the fourth added to the Blanchet onslaught in a quarter where they outscored Dayton 18-3.
“I think our defensive pressure changed,” Poole said when asked about the late run. “We didn’t want to lose.”
The win gives Blanchet its first girls basketball state title.
“They had a good game plan,” Dayton coach Scott Spink said. “They’re physical. They get up into people and they executed. I also think we lost our legs a little bit.”
In the end, Spink said, execution was the ultimate factor.
“If you look at our stats, our shooting and our turnovers, Blanchet deserved to win,” he said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole.
“We made bad passes and to only lose by two, that shows the fight that we have but we just needed to execute better ... giving up 18 in that last quarter when we had ‘em and all we had to do is hit a couple baskets and we’re probably looking at three-peating.”
Blanchet Coach Ron Hittner, with the net wrapped around his neck during the post-game celebration, said the win epitomized his team’s season.
“We won all season on defense and we knew that defense was gonna keep us in the game so if we could keep it close ... at some point things were going to break open for us,” he said. “We tell our kids to push the ball all game long and their defensive pressure sometimes can make teams a little tired in the fourth quarter and that’s when we can make a little run.”
Hittner praised senior Poole for her leadership against a stingy Dayton defense.
“She’s all about leadership and she’s such a complete player now that even when she doesn’t score, she runs everything else,” he said.
Blanchett’s head coach also complimented junior guard Emily Collier.
“She’s the best sixth man in the state,” he said. “She just turns the game around with her defensive pressure and effort.”
Part of that pressure and effort helped lead to 10 team steals for the Cavaliers, who harassed Dayton point guard Shawnie Spink all night.
Spink led the Pirates in scoring with 10 points, and added five rebounds, three steals and three assists.
She also led all players with 11 turnovers.
“I think we just got in our own heads,” she said. “We had too many turnovers. I know I did.”
Hittner said slowing Spink was one of the keys to victory.
“You can’t stop her,” he said. “What you hope to do is contain her a little and slow her down a little bit but she is just a tremendous player.”
After Moore's 3-pointer early in the fourth, Blanchet began its run.
Collier hit a layup to cut the lead to 34-22 with 7:12 to play.
Poole forced a turnover and missed a layup that was rebounded by Coronado, who drew a foul and converted one of the free throws.
A quick Dayton timeout followed that resulted in a missed Gabby Shadden jumper and a 3-pointer from Coronado on the other end to set the score at 34-26 with 5:39 left in regulation.
Trinity Phipps nabbed a steal off Spink and fed a pass into Coronado for a layup to cut the lead to six with 4:28 remaining.
Dayton's Kalina Rojas missed a jump shot from the right elbow, and Spink fouled Phipps, who hit both free throws.
At that point, Dayton’s lead had dwindled to four at 34-30 with 3:57 to play.
The teams battled back and forth for the next 90 seconds before a Collier layup cut the lead to two, 34-32 with a little more than two minutes left.
Dayton’s Malina Ray then missed a 3-point attempt and fouled Coronado on the rebound.
Coronado hit the front end of her free throws to set the score at 34-33 with 1:06 remaining.
With 39 seconds to play, Spink snatched the ball out of Collier’s hands but hit a wall in the form of Coronado and Poole.
Coronado came up with the steal and hit a layup to give Blanchet the lead 35-34 with 32 seconds left in regulation.
“Shawnie was a little pressured,” she said. “I tried to pressure her a little more.”
Dayton called a timeout with 20 seconds on the clock and coach Spink drew up a play for Rojas with a chance to retake the lead.
Rojas got a clean look from the right elbow but couldn’t get the shot to fall.
“I’ll give it to her again in that situation,” Coach Spink said.
Coronado then pulled down the first of two rebounds in the final seconds. The first led to Poole being fouled and the second came after Poole missed the front end of the free-throw opportunity. Poole was fouled again and split her two free throws to give Blanchet a 36-34 lead with five seconds to play.
Spink attempted a desperation 3-pointer, but was off the mark as the final seconds ticked away.
Coronado said the Cavaliers never panicked when they faced the big deficit.
“Coach just challenged us from the start,” Coronado said. “We stuck to that challenge. It was ‘never give up.’”