The Cougars hang with a team that was ranked atop a recent poll of Class 6A coaches, making Brooke Cates excited for the upcoming season.

by: JEFF GOODMAN - Senior guard Ashley Evans tries to drive around St. Mary's junior Tasia Bilbrew during the Canby girls basketball team's season opener Dec. 10 in Portland. Evans led the Cougars with 15 points in a 68-57 loss.PORTLAND — Brooke Cates could have been upset about the turnovers, the rebounding breakdowns and the outcome.

But after the Canby girls basketball team hung around in its Dec. 10 season opener against a St. Mary’s Academy squad that earned the top ranking in a recent poll of Class 6A coaches, the second-year coach was overcome by optimism.

Although the Cougars came up short, 68-57, they gave Cates a list of reasons to believe they can snag the program’s first victory in the state playoffs in seven years.

“This is a playoff team,” she said. “We can play with anybody. I’ve got a playoff team.”

For Canby (0-1), its first game of the season was a glimpse at the future on several fronts.

For starters, the team officially began adjusting to the losses of graduated seniors Madison Lear and Madison Westerberg.

It also started learning what things will be like without key contributor Taylor Lee, who is expected to miss at least three more weeks as she recovers from a knee sprain.

And it gained experience against a quality program that will leave the Mt. Hood Conference to join the Three Rivers League in 2014-15.

The Blues, who have reached the state quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons, will fortify a conference that will soon shed perennial powers Oregon City and Clackamas.

“It was a great first game out,” Cates said. “We were right there, knocking at the door several times. We’ll take it. We weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but for a first game out, not bad. We’re fighters.

“I’ve always felt that Three Rivers is the strongest league in the state, and with this — it’s Oregon City out, St. Mary’s in. You’re going to get another great program. They’re always good. I love that they’re coming into our league. We like those top-tier teams.”

This was Canby’s first meeting with the Blues since 2011, when it was handed a decisive 78-54 defeat in the first round of the playoffs. That loss is part of a maddening streak for the Cougars, who have made the playoffs seven years in a row but have not won a playoff game since 2007.

This year, Canby wasn’t supposed to start its season against St. Mary’s (3-0), but its trip to a South Eugene tournament was canceled due to inclement travel weather.

Cates held an intrasquad scrimmage instead, but she said it wasn’t enough to prepare her players for a team that had already defeated two Washington state opponents.

After junior Taylor Jorgensen drained a three-pointer late in the first quarter to give the Cougars their only lead of the evening at 10-9, the Blues took control with a commanding 25-4 run that showcased their size, athleticism and shooting ability.

Canby, meanwhile, went cold.

“We missed a lot of shots we’re going to make this year,” Cates said. “Especially in the first half, some of our kids were really nervous. But that’s why these games are good. It’s good to play these big games early on. This is what it’s about. You don’t get better beating teams by 30. You get better losing by 10. It’s about fighting all the way through. They kept their starters in all the way through. They knew we were knocking at the door. It was a great battle, a wonderful first game.”

Senior guard Ashley Evans led Canby with 15 points, all from beyond the arc, while senior guard Bailey Raines added 14 and senior forward Rachel Erbe had 13. Jorgensen and sophomore point guard Skylee Doman each chipped in six.

Evans was steady but relatively quiet until the fourth quarter, when she drained three shots from distance as the Cougars cut into the 21-point deficit they faced late in the third quarter.

Thanks in part to Evans, Canby scored more points in a fast-paced final period (25) than it did in the second and third frames combined (22).

“Ashley showed a lot of composure,” Cates said. “She is the face of our program. She’s a leader on and off the court, and she showed it. She had her game face on. She was not scared. She was not nervous. She’s been in big games. She was that good. She was ready to battle. She took over that last couple minutes. It was pretty incredible to watch. I was hoping that’s what Ashley would be this year.”

Raines also emerged as a scoring threat in the second half, beating the third-quarter buzzer with a mid-range jump shot and adding 10 points in the final eight minutes.

Erbe was important for the Cougars as an interior defender and rebounder but also provided points in the paint. She drove into the lane for a bucket early in the third quarter, and she cracked double figures with a layup later in the frame.

Balanced scoring might help Canby as it copes without Lee for now. Three other players — Cianne Cates, Lindsey Wujek and Brynn Stegmeier — are all out for the year with injuries.

“Those season-ending injures are heart-wrenching, but ... I’m very excited about who we still have playing,” Cates said. “We’re waiting patiently for Taylor. It’s tough, especially for her. But you don’t want her to come back too quickly. She needs that knee for life. Any basketball game is not worth totally ripping your knee up. She’s taking it in stride even though we know it’s heartbreaking for her. We’re hopeful that she’ll be able to join us soon.”

Junior forward Tyschal Blake scored a game-high 19 points to lead St. Mary’s, while junior guard Martina McCowan poured in 15 and freshman Bendu Yeaney contributed 10.

The Blues, whose 11 varsity players went to 11 different middle schools, are primed for another standout season despite losing nine seniors to graduation.

“They recruit all year and they have nine new superstars,” Cates said. “That’s what happens when you’re a Jesuit, a St. Mary’s, a Central Catholic. They don’t have girls who grow up in a town and play together from kindergarten through their senior year. We’re playing against all-star teams. They reboot every year. It’s a little bit apples-to-oranges. What do you say? I like our homegrown kids from Canby.”

News and notes

  • The Cougars used a variety of full-court defensive schemes against the Blues, and Cates said she hopes to confuse opponents throughout the season to generate easy scoring opportunities. “We’re going throw several different presses out there,” she said. “Not necessarily to get a steal, just to change the tempo, surprise them, mix up what they’re doing.”
  • Canby has not defeated St. Mary’s since posting a 56-22 rout Dec. 26, 2007, during the Lake Oswego Interstate Shootout. The Cougars will play in the same tournament this year.
  • ***


    ST. MARY’S 68, CANBY 57

    Dec. 10 at Mathews Gymnasium (Portland)

                            1          2          3          4          F

    Canby              10        12        10        25 — 57

    St. Mary’s       14        20        15        19 — 68

    Canby — Ashley Evans 15, Bailey Raines 14, Rachel Erbe 13, Skylee Doman 6, Taylor Jorgensen 6, Neila Kuznetsov 2, Mackenzie Lee 1.

    St. Mary’s — Tyschal Blake 19, Martina McCowan 15, Bendu Yeaney 10, Clara Ell 9, Cece Wooten 8, Tasia Bilbrew 6, Sydni Dalton 1.

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