A dream come true

Southridge beats Oregon City 49-43 to clinch its fourth consecutive state championship
by: JAIME VALDEZ, TITLE TIME — Southridge clinched its fourth straight Oregon big-school state title on Saturday at the Chiles Center, leading seniors Michelle Jenkins (right)and Alex Earl to a tearful hug.

PORTLAND - Southridge's girls basketball team could not have written a better ending than the one they penned in Saturday night's Class 6A state championship game.

And the Skyhawks' seven seniors weren't about to settle for anything less.

Metro League champion Southridge (24-4) won its fourth straight Oregon big-school state championship on Saturday at the Chiles Center, beating perennial power (and two-time championship-game opponent) Oregon City 49-43 before a crowd of 3,802.

'There's no way that (we) wanted to go out losing our senior years,' said Southridge post Michelle Jenkins, who won Player of the Game honors after recording game-high totals of 15 points, 10 rebounds and five steals against the Pioneers.

'It's amazing being here for three years in a row,' said senior guard Kiara Tate, who had 10 points and seven rebounds Saturday. 'That was our goal - no matter what happened, we were going to make it to here.'

'I couldn't be more happy with what we got,' added senior guard Alex Earl (nine points, six rebounds, three assists), who like Jenkins played on each of the Skyhawks' four title teams. 'We were a little nervous coming into the playoffs, but it feels good to beat the best teams. Then you know you're the best team.'

Second-ranked Southridge proved just that, after taking out top-ranked Central Catholic in its Friday semifinal and No. 3 Oregon City in the title contest.

'Every team that placed (in the state tournament) we beat either once or twice this season,' said Southridge coach Mike Meek. 'That shows what kind of non-league schedule we had. I think this team left no doubt that they were the best team this year.'

The Skyhawks had to earn their title too, thanks to a dogged second-half effort by Oregon City (23-4) that cut Southridge's 36-21 third-quarter lead down to four points inside the game's final minute. But the Pioneers, the Three Rivers League champions, came to the party just a little too late - the Skyhawks hit 5-of-6 foul shots in the final 55 seconds to seal their victory.

Those late free throws - four by Earl and one by Tate - helped the Skyhawks shake off a difficult night at the foul line and prevent what might have been a devastating upset. In all, the Skyhawks hit just 13-of-27 free throws in the game and just 4-of-13 in the fourth quarter before Earl and Tate's late efforts.

'It's just been one of things we've struggled with, but we did enough positive things to make up for that one negative,' Meek said.

'All year it's been like that,' Jenkins said. 'We missed some free throws so we just had to rely on our defense.'

The Skyhawks led by as much as 44-33 in the fourth quarter when Jenkins knocked down two foul shots with 3:41 left in the game, but the Pioneers didn't die there. Led by Lindsey Shearer's 13 points, Oregon City came back with a 10-3 run - including four each from Shearer and Karlie Gach - to close within 47-43 on Gach's left-handed drive with 35 seconds remaining.

But Southridge ran the clock down to 13 seconds before Earl was fouled again and knocked down two more from the charity stripe to ice her fourth straight state crown.

I'm 'relieved, Absolutely relieved,' Earl said afterward. 'We knew we worked way too hard to let that slip away, slip through our fingertips. We just had to come together, get it done.'

'It feels amazing,' said freshman guard Allison Greene, a starter who had two points, two assists and two rebounds. 'We both wanted it (but) we came through in the end.'

Southridge started the game on an absolute roll, with Jenkins scoring from the right side just 22 seconds into the game and Tate bombing home a three-pointer assisted by Earl less than a minute later to provide the team a lead it would never relinquish.

Jenkins came back with a three-point play and a short jumpshot midway through the opening quarter, and Earl and sophomore Janelle Weiss buried three-pointers 36 seconds apart to take their team's lead to 16-2.

But the Pioneers cut the gap to 18-6 at the end of the period, then badgered the Skyhawks into their worst quarter of the tournament and cut even further into the Southridge lead. With Oregon City's press forcing eight second-quarter turnovers and the Skyhawks hitting just 2-of-7 shots from the floor, the Pioneers rallied back within 22-16 at the half. Brittany Knighton did most of the damage for OC, hitting a three-pointer and scoring five points in the quarter.

'I think we just stopped playing, just a little bit,' Tate said. 'The funny thing is, even when we were up so much, we didn't think we had it. We were still saying 'It's not over yet.''

The Skyhawks righted themselves in the third quarter, though, got six points from Jenkins, another 'three' by Weiss, and built their lead as high as 15 before settling for a 38-31 margin heading into the final period.

After the game, the Skyhawks finally had a chance to look back on their fourth consecutive championship season and analyze how it had all come together.

'I think that they learned the team chemistry thing, and how to fit the pieces together,' Meek said. 'As a group, they did a great job of coming together. I'm just really proud of the way they stuck together and found a way to get it done.'

'I'm going to give 120 percent to coach Meek because on and off the court he pushes us to be good players and good people,' Earl said. 'He's, honestly, my role model. He's the best coach I've ever had and I give all credit to him.

And winning a fourth straight state title - 'It's a dream come true,' she added.

OC's Melair Holterhoff added 10 points and Gach eight in the loss. Allie Brock had seven points for the Skyhawks and Weiss six.