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Tears aplenty

But a lot to celebrate

PORTLAND - Clackamas' team room at the Rose Garden was awash with tears Saturday night, following the Cavaliers' appearance in the championship final of the Class 6A High School Girls Basketball Tournament.

The top-ranked Cavaliers were heartbroken, having suffered a 42-39 loss at the hands of second-ranked Jesuit, falling just short of their ultimate goal of earning their school's very first state championship in basketball.

'It sucks that we didn't end up with the win,' said Clackamas senior Thea Reiner. 'We've worked so hard and we've become so close as a team….'

Nonetheless, the Cavaliers left the Rose Garden Number One in the hearts of their fans, whom they had treated to a fantastic season.

Clackamas coach Ken Trapp put things in perspective.

'They had a great year!' Trapp said. 'They're the public school champions. They beat Oregon City three times, won the Three Rivers League title, had a school-record 25-game win string, and they came within a bounce or two of beating a very good team, and winning it all.'

It was a year of firsts for the Cavaliers. The state runner-up finish to Jesuit was the highest finish ever for a Clackamas High School girls basketball team.

The Cavaliers this year won their first outright league title, finishing 15-0 in the Three Rivers League for their first undefeated league season, and dethroning 17-time defending TRL champion Oregon City. They beat the Pioneers on their home floor, handing Oregon City its first home-court loss since 1993.

And Clackamas this season set school records for consecutive wins (25) and most wins in a season (overall record of 27-2).

The previous highest finish was fifth in the state (1997 and 1999). The previous record for wins in a season was set in 1999, when the Cavaliers went 24-7.

The only other Clackamas girls team to win a league title (the 1981 team) finished as league co-champion with Oregon City.

'In the big picture, we've accomplished a lot this year,' said Clackamas senior co-captain Natalie Myers. 'And we've done it against some pretty good teams. But that's not saying I wouldn't like to be on that other side, holding the first place trophy. Ultimately we did fall short.'

The Cavaliers had nothing to be ashamed of in regard to their performance in the final. They came very close to staging the most impressive comeback win of this year's 6A State Tournament.

Many people had written them off at halftime, when they trailed 25-12, after going an ice-cold 5-of-20 from the field in the first half.

But the Cavaliers battled with a new-found intensity at both ends of the floor after the intermission. And Clackamas post Jen Reese got more defensive help from her teammates, who double- and triple-downed on Jesuit 6-1 star post Elizabeth Brenner.

Brenner, who finished with a game-high 17 points, scored only three points after the break, when she went one-of-7 from the field.

The Cavaliers outscored the Crusaders 14-6 in the third period and 27-17 in the second half, as they toughened up on defense and got their passing game going on offense.

'We came out with some fire, got some steals, and did what we've been doing all year on defense,' said Myers.

The Cavaliers went on a 14-2 run to start the second half. Myers' jumper 5-1/2 minutes into the third period had the Cavaliers trailing by just one point, at 27-26. And the Crusaders appeared in trouble.

Elise Miller found Shelby Vasconcellos-Mattocks open under the basket for a three-point play early in the fourth quarter that gained Clackamas its first lead since early in the game, at 34-33; and Clackamas fans went crazy.

Jesuit guard Rachel Mendelsohn drove the lane and scored a three-point play to put the Crusaders back on top, 36-34.

But Myers scored on an inbound pass from Deeshyra Thomas, and it was a 36-36 deadlock with 3:13 to play.

Jesuit took advantage of two Cavaliers turnovers to move back on top 40-36, with a field goal and two free throws.

But Reese gave her team new hope when she hit a 6-foot baseline jumper and was fouled by Brenner on the play.

Reese made the charity toss, and the Cavaliers were within one, trailing 40-39, with 41 seconds to play.

The Crusaders then played keep-away, until Thomas chased down and fouled Mendelsohn, sending her to the line with 10.8 second remaining.

Mendelsohn sank both gifters to make it 42-39 Jesuit.

Two 3-point attempts by Clackamas fell off the mark, and Crusader players, coaches and fans went crazy in celebration of their school's first ever state championship in girls basketball.

Brenner and Mendelsohn (15 points on 5-of-6 shooting) were the only Crusader players to reach double figures in scoring.

Vasconcellos-Mattocks (11 points, 4 assists) and Reese (10 points) headed up Clackamas' offense in the defensive slugfest.

After their slow start, the Cavaliers were 10-of-21 (.476) from the field in the second half, while the Crusaders were 6-of-17 (.353).

Clackamas assistant coach Todd Lane commented, 'It didn't work out too well in the first half, but in the second half [our players] played as hard as any team ever played. Win or lose, I'm very proud of these girls.'

'It's been an awesome season!' said Clackamas senior Mackenzie Owens. 'I've enjoyed every minute with my team…. Getting second is pretty amazing. But it still sucks, because we could have gotten first.'

'The girls coming back next year have a lot of experience and a tremendous passion for the game,' said Myers. 'I know they're going to work hard and I expect them to be back here next year.'

'The Cavs will be back here,' said Reiner. 'They'll be back.'

Brenner and Vasconcellos-Mattocks were named Players of the Game for the championship game.

Reese and Brenner were both unanimous picks to the state tournament's first team of all-stars, while Myers was selected to the second team.

Reese was the state tournament's top rebounder, with 35 rebounds in three games. She averaged 12 points, to lead Clackamas in scoring.

Rowland was the state tournament's top percentage field goal shooter, hitting the mark on 10-of-15 (.667) shots from the floor.

Vasconcellos-Mattocks was second in free throw shooting percentage (11-of-13, .846).

The Cavaliers advanced to the championship final with wins over fifth-ranked St. Mary's (56-29) in the quarterfinals and over fourth-ranked South Eugene (46-35) in the semifinals.

Reese was at her best in the rout of St. Mary's scoring a game-high 16 points, hauling down 17 rebounds, serving up three assists, blocking two shots and stealing the sphere twice.

Natasha Rowland played a strong game off the bench, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

Thomas scored eight points and made four assists.

Nursing a 22-21 lead at halftime, the Cavaliers broke the game open in the third period when they outscored the Blues 18-4.

Defense was pivotal in the second half, as the Cavaliers held their opponents to 2-of-19 shooting from the field.

Aggressive defensive play and patience on offense were the keys in the semifinal with the upset-minded South Eugene Axemen, who made a game of it with their super aggressive play in a zone defense.

It was still anybody's game until Clackamas went on an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter.

Vasconcellos-Mattocks gained the Cavaliers a little breathing room when Reese found her open under the basket for a lay-up that made it 30-25 Clackamas.

A short time later, Myers rebounded a South Eugene miss and sent an outset pass ahead to Vasconcellos-Mattocks, whose fast-break bucket made it 32-25 Clackamas.

After another South Eugene miss, Myers found Rowland open under the basket for another lay-up.

And when Reese scored off a pass from Vasconcellos-Mattocks with 2:50 to play, it was all over but the shouting, with Clackamas on top 36-25.

The Cavaliers then made 8-of-10 free throws down the stretch to put the game on ice.

'It was all about defense,' said Vasconcellos-Mattocks. 'Their best players, Ellen Cook and Jessica Shivers, we just shut them down. That was the difference.'

Thomas was a force on defense for Clackamas, rejecting four shots.

Myers (11 points, 4 assists) and Reese (10 points, 3 assists) were Clackamas' top point-getters.

Reese (11 rebounds) led Clackamas to a 30-22 advantage in rebounding.

Cook scored 9 points to lead the Axemen in scoring.