Jesuit hammers Barlow, eyes chance at a state crown
by: Miles Vance SOAR AND SCORE — Jesuit’s Rachel Mendelsohn flies in to score against South Salem during her team’s first-round state playoff victory.

The door is open for the Jesuit girls basketball team.

The Crusaders won two Class 6A state playoff games last week, and in the process, earned a third straight Class 6A state tournament berth, as well as a chance to make history.

Jesuit, which beat South Salem 48-25 on March 2 and Barlow 70-27 on Saturday, now begins pursuit of its first-ever state championship when it faces South Medford at 1:30 p.m. today (Thursday) at the Rose Garden in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.

With a win today, the Metro League champion Crusaders would play again at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals against either Oregon City or Tigard; with a loss today, Jesuit would play at 9 a.m. Friday against the Oregon City/Tigard loser. The state championship game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden.

To have another chance to win a championship - Jesuit previously lost to Southridge in the state finals in 2010 and 2007, and to Oregon City in 2003 - is just what Jesuit's seniors were hoping for in 2011.

Winning the state championship 'was one of our goals at the beginning of the season,' said Jesuit senior Tasha Wilkins. 'We knew at the start of the season that we would have what it takes. Every year, we make it to playoffs but we haven't quite made that final step and we're looking to do that, especially after last year.'

Jesuit came out firing in the second round of the state playoffs Saturday night, and 16 points from senior post Elizabeth Brenner to torch visiting Barlow 70-27.

The win lifted top-ranked Jesuit's season record to 23-1, while Barlow - the second-place finisher from the Mt. Hood Conference - ended its year at 17-10.

'We knew we needed to get better' from the first-round win over South Salem, said Jesuit coach Jason Lowery. 'We've got to defend and we've got to dominate possessions. Defensive rebounding and turnovers are what we've been focusing on all year, and that's what it … comes down to.'

We knew we needed 'to be more focused and do better,' said Jesuit senior guard Jean Parker, who had six points against Barlow.

And Jesuit was indeed better Saturday. Barlow standout Alicia Scafidi hit an early three-pointer from the top of the key to bring the Bruins within a single point early on, but that proved to be the team's only basket of the first half.

Jesuit, using its pressure defense to great effect, forced numerous turnovers that led to breakaway baskets and a big early lead it would never relinquish. Tasha Wilkins and Louise Nistler hit back-to-back three-pointers to stretch the margin to 17-3, and after a Barlow timeout Jesuit's Rachel Mendelsohn knocked down a pass near midcourt and beat a Barlow defender the other way for another easy two.

By the end of the first quarter, Jesuit found itself up 23-4, and the home crowd was making its plans for the Rose Garden and this week's state tournament.

Jesuit connected on 14 of its first 19 field goals, including all four of its three-point tries, and led 37-9 at the half.

Barlow's Andrea Gloss started the third quarter with a layin - but it was only Barlow's second basket of the night, and counted for far too little and came far too late. Jesuit's lead grew to as many as 46 points in the second half, which saw the starters moved to the bench midway through the third quarter.

Besides Brenner's 16 points, Wilkins and Nistler combined to hit six three-pointers, and all 12 players on the Jesuit roster scored.

Scafidi led Barlow with 12 and Gloss nine in the loss.

Jesuit was not nearly as sharp in its win over South Salem three days earlier, however. Playing its first game in eight days, the Crusaders raced out to a 7-0 lead after just 2 minutes, 21 seconds, but struggled with turnovers and poor shooting the rest of the half and didn't really put the Saxons away until the third quarter.

There, already leading 20-8, Jesuit just flat-out blitzed South Salem. The Crusaders knocked down 8-of-19 shots from the field and 6-of-8 free throws and outscored the Saxons 24-7. But the real damage Jesuit did came on the defensive end of the court, where they held South to 2-of-6 shooting and forced 10 turnovers.

'It's just playing good defense, helping, playing good on-ball defense, and rebounding, making solid passes,' said Parker, who had eight points in the win. 'A whole bunch of little things that we have to do that will help us a lot in the long run.'

'At halftime, coach just talked about what we needed to do to play better,' said Wilkins, who also had eight in the win. 'We started to play more of our game, especially more on defense, and we got a couple more steals and played more how we normally play.'

Brenner led Jesuit with 10 points for Jesuit, which forced 28 turnovers in the game. Whitney Pitalo led South Salem with five points, as the Saxons ended their season at 12-16 after finishing fourth in the Central Valley Conference.

- David Ball contributed to this report.

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