The Crusaders race out to a 22-point halftime lead and roll to victory
by: Miles Vance EYES ON PRIZE — Jesuit junior guard Jean Parker reaches for a rebound during her team’s 57-35 quarterfinal win over South Medford at the Class 6A state basketball tournament on March 10.

PORTLAND - If there was any doubt that the Jesuit girls basketball team should have been ranked No. 1 in the state, the Crusaders quickly erased it in their Class 6A state tournament opener.

Jesuit, facing Southern Oregon Conference champion South Medford in the state quarterfinals on March 10, sprinted out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter against the Panthers, built it to 22 at halftime, and cruised home with a 57-35 win at the Rose Garden.

The victory lifted Metro League champion Jesuit's record to 25-1, while the Panthers had a 16-game winning streak snapped and fell to 21-6.

After the game, Jesuit's coaches and players all credited their tenacious defense with keying their victory.

'We played really hard defense like we always do,' said junior guard Rachel Mendelsohn, who had six points in the win. 'Everyone was just ready to play coming off last year.'

'I just wanted the defense to play hard, and I knew we'd figure the rest out,' said Jesuit coach Jason Lowery. 'That's how we started off, defending well, and luckily for our girls, they were ready to shoot the ball.'

Jesuit's defense held the Panthers to 24 percent shooting (11-of-46) from the field, and also forced 16 turnovers, with Claire Stach and Jackie Ritacco making two steals each for the Crusaders.

And offensively, Jesuit hit the ground running, knocking down 8-of-12 shots in the first quarter and taking a 21-10 lead. In that opening frame, senior post Elizabeth Brenner was flat-out dominant, knocking down 3-of-4 shots from the field, making four straight free throws and scoring 10 of her 13 points in the frame. Wilkins was tough too, hitting twice from the field as the Crusaders' lead bloomed to 21-10 on a basket by Mendelsohn with 11 seconds to go in the first.

Jesuit kept its foot mashed on the accelerator in the second quarter as well, getting three-pointers from Wilkins, Mendelsohn and Claire Stach and boosting its advantage to 38-16 at the half. Stach scored five points in the period, her three-pointer providing that 22-point edge when she connected with just six seconds left in the half.

'There were definitely some jitters because it was state, it's the Rose Garden, but I think we were pretty confident in our abilities,' said Wilkins, who led all scorers with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field. ''We knew if we came out and played the way we could play we'd get the win.'

'We got some shots to go early and that let everybody relax,' Lowery said. 'And Tasha was great on both ends. She was ready to play tonight.'

The Panthers got no closer than 17 points in the second half, and that wasn't until Kylie Towry's basket with 1 minute, 13 seconds left in the game cut the gap to 52-35.

Brenner added nine rebounds in the win, Stach finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Parker grabbed 11 rebounds.

Tess Picknell led the Panthers with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the loss, while Towry finished with 11 points, two assists and two steals.

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