The Pioneers defeat the upset-minded Jesuit Crusaders 56-51 and earn their 23rd straight trip to the state tournament
OREGON CITY - Twenty-three and counting.
That's how many consecutive seasons the Oregon City Pioneers have reached the state high school tournament in girls basketball.
This year's edition of Pioneer basketball made it 23 on Saturday night, as they fended off the upset-minded Jesuit Crusaders, winning 56-51 before an enthusiastic crowd at Oregon City High School, in a second-round game of the Class 6A state playoffs.
The third-ranked Pioneers (21-3) travel to the University of Portland's Chiles Center on Thursday, for a 3:15 p.m. match-up with fifth-ranked North Medford (22-5) in a first-round game of the 2008 Class 6A State Tournament.
'This means a lot,' said Oregon City senior co-captain Lindsey Shearer. 'There's a lot of pressure to keep the tradition going. There were a lot of nerves tonight…..
'No more nerves once we get to the Chiles Center. We're going to come out strong and win.'
'A lot of hard work has gone into making our home floor a place where no one wants to come to play,' said Oregon City senior co-captain Kenna Borgmeier. 'We wanted to be a senior class that kept that tradition going….
'At the first of the year no one gave us much of a chance because we were so inexperienced. But we've proven them wrong. We've defended our home floor and made the tournament just like Oregon City teams have done before and just like Oregon City teams will do in the future. It's what Oregon City basketball does. No matter who's on the team, Oregon City's going to get it done.'
Still, Saturday's win did not come easily. The lead changed hands six times in the first quarter and Jesuit was up 16-11 at the end of the first period.
The Pioneers did not take the lead for good until Oregon City 5-10 junior post Calli Jackson took the ball to the basket for a 3-point play in the closing seconds of the first half.
Jackson's basket made it 29-26 Oregon City, but Jesuit freshman Elizabeth Brenner trimmed the gap to 29-28 with a fast-break bucket just before the intermission.
The Pioneers came out like a house afire to start the second half, and they stretched their advantage to 47-39 by the end of the third period, despite lukewarm shooting.
But there was no quit in the Crusaders, as they closed to within three points near the midpoint of the fourth quarter and stayed close to the end.
Oregon City's play in the third quarter was pivotal. The Pioneers worked their offense like a well-oiled machine with crisp passes to the open man, they owned the glass, and they upped their intensity on defense.
Oregon City out-scored Jesuit 18-11 in the third period, connecting on 8-of-21 shots from the floor, while the Crusaders went 4-for-8.
'At halftime, coach told us to keep working hard and keep up the pace,' said Oregon City junior wing Melair Holterhoff. 'He said they were getting tired. 'Keep the pace up and run them out of the gym.''
'We moved the ball better [in the second half],' said Guelsdorf. 'We dominated the glass and we kept the pressure up. Our press didn't create a lot of turnovers, but it caused fatigue, and it showed up for them on the defensive end. They play a very physical game, and they were getting tired.'
Rebounding was huge for the Pioneers. Shearer and Holterhoff (9 rebounds apiece) and Jackson (6 rebounds) led the Pioneers to a 38-20 domination of the backboards, and the Pioneers claimed 19 rebounds at the offensive end of the floor.
But the sharper shooting Crusaders rallied around Brenner to make a game of it. The 6-2 post tallied a game- and career-high 21 points on the night, scoring on 8-of-11 attempted field goals.
'I just went out and played as hard as I could because I knew it could be our last game,' Brenner said.
'[Brenner] surprised us,' said Guelsdorf. 'We made some adjustments in the second half. We collapsed on her every time she touched the ball, and she had a tougher time.'
Brenner was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field in the first half.
Oregon City sophomore standout Brittany Knighton hit a 3-point buzzer-beater to make it 47-39 at the end of the third quarter, and the Pioneers played a delay game in the fourth quarter.
But the feisty Crusaders closed to within three points, at 49-46, when Brenner took the ball to the basket for a 3-point play with 5:02 still left to play.
Borgmeier found Jackson open for a baseline jumper to up the gap back to 51-46.
Following a Crusader miss, Shearer hit a tension-filled baseline shot at 2:03 to up the advantage to 53-46.
Jesuit junior guard Shikara Lowe cashed in from downtown and trimmed the Pioneers' lead to four points, at 53-49.
But Holterhoff and Jackson answered three Crusader misses with three free throws, and the hard fought spoils belonged to Oregon City.
'I thought Jesuit gave it their best,' said Jackson. 'They did a great job keeping it close to the end.'
Despite Oregon City's constant full-court pressure, the Pioneers forced only 12 turnovers. And the Crusaders had a better shooting night than the Pioneers, hitting 21-of-39 (.538) attempted field goals and 6-of-10 free throws.
The Pioneers went 23-for-55 (.418) from the field and 5-for-11 from the line.
Oregon City had balanced scoring, with Knighton (14 points), Jackson (13 points), Shearer (12 points) and Karlie Gach (11 points) all reaching double figures.
Shearer was 6-of-9 from the field; Gach was 3-of-5 from 3-point land.
Brenner was the only Jesuit player to reach double figures. Crusader second-team Metro League all-stars Sarah Griffin and Meaghan White combined for just five points.
Jesuit, the No. 4 team from the Metro League, finished with an overall record of 15-12, after going 6-4 in league.
'Jesuit played great,' said Guelsdorf. 'They're a team that seemed to play really well against good teams, but struggled against lesser teams. They played [top-ranked] Southridge tough, losing by just five points.'