North Bend Girls Vs. Willamette

North Bend's Randee Cunningham and Willamette's Taylor Smith battle to box each other out beneath a free throw Tuesday at North Bend High School.

NORTH BEND — Trying to find the silver lining after a tough 40-34 home loss to Willamette on Tuesday night, North Bend girls basketball coach Mike Forrester turned to the big picture.

“The good news is we still control things,” Forrester said.

If the Bulldogs can beat Ashland at home on Friday and win at Eagle Point next week, they will be in the Class 5A playoffs no matter what happens behind them.

“If we beat Ashland and Eagle Point, we take care of ourselves,” Forrester said. “If not, we have to have somebody else win a game.”

The Bulldogs put themselves in great position to take a huge step toward the playoffs when they opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 34-33 lead with 5:13 to go Tuesday night. But they never scored again and Willamette escaped town with the win.

“I think we battled hard,” said North Bend’s Hayden Markel, who had a game-high 14 points.

The Bulldogs trailed by as many as 11 points after the Wolverines got hot from 3-point range during a 14-2 run that took up most of the second quarter.

North Bend pulled back within four late in the third quarter on a steal and bucket by Haley Snelgrove, but another 3-pointer helped the Wolverines boost the lead back to 33-25 heading to the fourth.

North Bend surged back at the start of the fourth. Snelgrove scored on a drive, Markel hit a jumper, Snelgrove had a free throw, Markel hit another jumper and Adrianna Frank hit two free throws and the Bulldogs were up 34-33 with 5:13 to go.

That was it, though, for North Bend, which missed its last five free throws and couldn’t get any other shots to fall.

“We had a hard time putting the ball in the basket,” Forrester said.

Jordan Morris put Willamette back in front with a runner and the Wolverines stretched the lead with free throws in the final minute.

The big difference in the game was the outside shooting.

North Bend did a pretty good job defensively inside against 6-foot Willamette post Natalie Willoughby, but let Taylor Smith find space beyond the 3-point line too many times.

Smith hit five 3-pointers for the Wolverines for a game-high 15 points and Whitney Young and Makenzie Crawford added one each. In contrast, as a team North Bend went 0–for-4 from 3-point range.

Forrester credited the Wolverines for doing a good job pressuring the ball. And when the Bulldogs had open looks, either outside or inside, they too often didn’t make them.

Willoughby added nine points and 13 rebounds for the Wolverines.

Markel scored 14 points for the Bulldogs and Snelgrove added 10. Randee Cunningham, one of the Bulldogs tasked with guarding the taller Willoughby, had six steals while trying to deny her the ball.

But Willamette out-rebounded North Bend 31-17 and the Bulldogs only had two offensive rebounds the entire game, both by Markel and both in the opening few minutes.

“Getting boards was a struggle,” Markel said.

The Bulldogs did force 20 turnovers, while giving up the ball 13 times.

Forrester said he was proud of his team for battling back.

“We talked at halftime (about how) it’s a game of streaks,” he said.

And while the Bulldogs had the big run to start the fourth, Willamette finished the game on a 7-0 spurt of its own.

“We just couldn’t finish,” Forrester said.

North Bend is now 6-7 in league play while Willamette is 5-7 and Eagle Point and Thurston both have four wins.

The Wolverines still have games against Churchill and Crater, likely losses, meaning if North Bend can take care of Ashland on Friday and Eagle Point on the road next Friday — they also play at Springfield on Tuesday — they will  probably be in the playoffs.

“That’s our goal,” Markel 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.