Prep Girls Basketball • Jefferson's rise to top of 5A took time, hard work, belief
by: JIM CLARK, Tyrone White (left) and the Jefferson Democrats head into the 5A state tournament with the No. 2 ranking, while Josh Hardin (right) and Grant are among the 6A contenders.

Janita Badon smiled, and everything fell into place for her and the Jefferson Democrats

'If I smile, they smile,' the senior point guard says. 'We're a great team, and I knew we'd come back.'

The Democrats trailed Hermiston by 12 points at halftime of Saturday's Class 5A basketball final. But in their Chiles Center locker room, the Jefferson coaches made adjustments to defend transcendent point guard Shoni Schimmel. And the Demos reminded themselves that they usually own the second half.

With that, a smiling Badon led Jefferson back onto the court.

'Her coming out smiling just gave us confidence,' sophomore post Ariel Reynolds says.

Jefferson then ramped up the intensity, outscored Hermiston by 21 points in the second half and won 67-58.

The Democrats finished 27-0 - they are 53-2 the past two years - and matched the championship boys team of 2000 that also went unbeaten. Let the celebration continue around North Killingsworth Street and Kerby Avenue.

'This is huge, for our community, our school and the PIL - because we're looked at as poor little rugrats,' coach Michael Bontemps says. 'It's a quality group of girls who play basketball the way it's supposed to be played. They're solid citizens and sportswomen. We went out and played hard and represented our city, community and school very well.'

The Democrats beat six 6A playoff-level teams in nonleague play, crushed their PIL 5A foes for the second consecutive year and then put the hammer down against four 5A tournament teams. The Demos dispatched visiting Silverton and then stopped Bend (60-38), Willamette (55-44) and Hermiston (67-58) at Chiles Center.

Deep, athletic and dedicated to defense, the Demos really showed off their skills at the tourney with 49 steals, 79 turnovers forced, 64 offensive rebounds and 206 shots generated.

Jeff shot only .351, .329 and .342 from the field in its Chiles Center victories, missing countless point-blank shots. But with defense and rebounding, the Democrats kept getting the ball back. The Demos would have destroyed the 5A tourney teams had they made more easy shots.

The state trophy has been a long time coming, because Jefferson has featured some pretty good players over the years, including Erica Mashia and Brittney Davis.

'They were very deep and talented at every position,' says Mashia, now Erica Spencer and serving as one of Bontemps' assistants, of the new champs. 'And this was the second year (of challenging at state), so they knew what to expect. They came up short last year, and the girls were really hurt. They didn't want to feel like that again.'

Badon, a Utah signee, and Nyesha Sims, a sweet shooter and rebounder, led the team as seniors. But it was the youths who stepped up to help take the Demos to the next level. Junior Tyrisha Blake blossomed, and the maturity of sophomores Denaya Brazzle, Reynolds, Dequise Hammick and Arquaezia Jackson rounded out the regular rotation. (So, yes, the Demos will be ready to defend next season.)

Sims had 16 points in the championship game, and the 5-6 Brazzle added 15.

'I have more confidence in myself,' says Brazzle, the cousin of former Benson High and Pepperdine player Boomer Brazzle. 'I could work on my defense, but I'm taking it a step at a time. Confidence made me better, and I was trusting my teammates.'

The 5-6 Hammick guarded the opponent's best guard all year. On Saturday, it was Schimmel straight up. While Schimmel had 16 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, she also had 12 turnovers, thanks to Hammick's pressure, the Demos going with a trap in the second half and the pace of the game.

'I was hearing a lot from people, 'Do this and do that' ' against Schimmel, Hammick says. 'She's a good player. Just had to face-guard her.'

Hammick, who lives with uncle Tyrone Hammick, a former Jeff player, gladly accepted the defensive role. 'I'm more mature - my game, defense, attitude, everything has been good,' she says.

'We finally woke up'

The 6-1 Reynolds and 5-10 Blake started, with Reynolds being an option in the halfcourt and Blake serving as the strong and athletic power forward. The Democrats still struggled in halfcourt, but not nearly as much as they did last year against Willamette in the semis. Hermiston played zone during much of Saturday's title game, and the Demos beat it.

'We've built our team since last year, gotten stronger and made more relationships,' Reynolds says.

Badon and Sims go down as the hallmarks of Jeff girls hoops, being the seniors on an undefeated state championship team.

Sims says the girls felt they could win it all, based on their domination of 6A teams. In the big picture, she and Badon have been part of something special in the past four years under Bontemps - the rise to championship status.

'We finally woke up,' Badon says. 'We committed to defense, discipline, our team and ourselves. We learned how to pass the ball.'

Jefferson Athletic Director and boys coach Marshall Haskins says: 'We've had great girls, but we've not had a complete team. This team has size, defense, quickness, a leader in Janita and a great all-around player in Nyesha.'

Running, discipline included

Bontemps, 53, coached for 15 years under Milt Adams at Jefferson before leaving for Parkrose - he teaches social studies there. He remembers pleading with Adams to play an uptempo, havoc-creating defensive style, à la Oregon City. When Bontemps became coach four years ago, he set out to do just that. Badon and then Sims bought into it.

Girls started gravitating to the Jefferson program. This year, Bontemps added more running to practices to increase conditioning. 'It's how you run, and this year we added some drills, like fullcourt 1 on 1, 2 on 1, 3 on 1, 4 on 1 -push, push push,' he says. 'It's playing fullcourt, and everything is ballhandling.'

Badon says: 'He's disciplined us, and we're running more. When I was a freshman, I didn't know what discipline was. We just listened. If we didn't listen, we ran more.'

Haskins was the one who hired Bontemps.

'Jefferson is one of hardest places to coach, because everybody's a 'coach,' ' Haskins says. 'To go through the scrutiny he has this year, he's done a great job. No one gives him credit for being a good coach, but (Saturday) he showed it. Whatever they say about him or the girls -they were the ones who cut down the nets.'

Girls Tourney

Central Catholic placed third in the 6A girls basketball tournament for the second consecutive year, beating Sunset 53-40 on Saturday at the Chiles Center.

The Rams' championship dreams ended against Southridge in the semifinals, when their offense couldn't get Kate Lanz, Audrey Miller or Katy Wade free for many shots and points. The three combined to go 5 of 28 from the field against the quicker and equally physical Skyhawks.

'They did everything we asked them to do defensively and rebounding,' Central Catholic coach Sandy Dickerson says of her players. 'We just couldn't find the basket.'

Miller then had 17 points as the Rams (24-3) toppled Sunset, although she admitted 'no one was excited to play for third place.'

• Miller will move on to Pepperdine and vows to 'get quicker, faster and leaner and become more aggressive.' … Lanz, who hopes to sign with a Division I team, will play for the Team Concept summer team and work on her speed, agility and quickness - 'SAQ,' she says. 'Got to work on my outside shooting and ballhandling.' Lanz had a big bruise on her nose after falling hard against Sheldon in the quarterfinals. … Losing Wade and Courtney Flynn, the Rams will need to develop new big players. Prospects are Kaitlin Inglesby, Cheyne Corrodo, Zelena Puentes-Davis and Kara Barkdoll. … Inglesby, the school's top pitcher, suffered a broken ankle during basketball season but should be ready for the Mount Hood Conference softball season.

• Lincoln (21-8) lost last Saturday's fourth-place game 54-37 to South Eugene. The Cardinals got a trophy for sixth place but wished they had played better in their final game. 'We were sloppy all over,' coach Jeff Peeler says, 'but our six seniors got a little further every year - their first two years we just missed making the tournament, last year we came here but went 0-2 and this year we made it to the final day. So they've raised the bar for Lincoln women's basketball.'

The Cards didn't shoot well in the tourney, especially early in games. In three first halves, they were 13 for 63 (20.6 percent), and overall they were 44 for 136 (32.4 percent).

They also had a tough loss in the quarterfinals, losing 33-31 to Sunset on a questionable blocking foul that led to the deciding free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining. 'A call like that to decide a state quarterfinal is ridiculous,' Peeler says. It came in a game in which a lot of 'ticky-tack fouls' in the first half put Sunset in the bonus quickly and kept Lincoln standouts Kelsey Goodell and Aliyah Green on the bench the entire second quarter because of foul trouble.

Green, Alexis Gleason and Paige Harmier will be the leading returning Cardinals next season.

• Southridge, in winning its fourth consecutive state title Saturday, appears to have supplanted Oregon City as the top 6A program. OC finished second for the fifth time, to go with its 10 big-school titles.

'We have a stretch of 23 years they've got to catch up to,' says OC coach Kurt Guelsdorf, referring to the Pioneers' 23 consecutive state appearances. Still, he lauds Southridge's coaches, players and discipline.

'It's point guards and posts in girls basketball,' he notes. And, Southridge had those positions well-covered by guard Alex Earl and post Michelle Jenkins.

Jenkins scored 15 points in the 49-43 title game victory over Oregon City. She's bound for USC; Earl is going to Arizona State. They joined the likes of Oregon City's Ashley Smith and Brianne Meharry as four-time state champions.

-Jason Vondersmith

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