Tradition wins out, as the Pioneers avenge an earlier loss and tie Lake Oswego for the TRL crown
by: roland simmons, Oregon City seniors Chase (left) and Paige Halberg (right) mug Lake Oswego senior wing Margaret Johnson during last week's route of the Lakers.

OREGON CITY - With Pioneer pride, tradition and a league title on the line, Oregon City's third-ranked girls basketball team put on a clinic for Lake Oswego on Feb. 20, avenging an earlier loss with a 53-31 trouncing of the second-ranked Lakers.

With the win and a 92-55 rout of Putnam on Feb. 23, the Pioneers earned a share of their 14th straight league title, and a home-court win string that stretches back to 1993 remained intact.

The Pioneers (20-4, 11-1) and Lakers (21-3, 11-1) finished league play tied for first place in the Three Rivers League standings.

'There was a lot of pressure, not losing at home in 15 years,' said Oregon City senior wing Kelly Marchant. 'We wanted to keep the tradition going and reverse what happened last time [we played Lake Oswego].'

'We wanted to win [and carry on the tradition] for all of those who have come before us,' said Oregon City senior wing Stephanie Buhler. 'I think we wanted it so much, we just came out with every ounce of energy that we had.'

The Pioneers took charge from the outset, using a tenacious full-court press to force turnovers, which they turned into fast-break buckets. They forced turnovers on Lake Oswego's first four possessions, en route to an 8-0 lead.

The defensive onslaught continued throughout the game, and the Pioneers stretched their advantage to 29-13 by halftime, and to 41-19 by the end of the third period.

The margin of victory would have been even greater, except that Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett kept his starters on the floor even after Oregon City coach Kurt Guelsdorf cleared his bench.

Oregon City senior post Jessica Vorpahl explained the difference between the Feb. 20 game and a Jan. 26 game at Lake Oswego, which Oregon City lost 66-56:

'We did a lot better job blocking out, and our defense was much better.'

The taller Lakers had claimed a 38-12 advantage on the backboards in that earlier encounter.

In last week's game, the Lakers earned only a 26-22 edge in rebounding, the Pioneers forced 27 turnovers, and the Lakers made only 10-of-37 (27 percent) of their shots from the floor.

'Our ability to defend them inside and defensive rebounds were the keys,' said Guelsdorf. 'Most of their offense comes from inside shots and putbacks. We defended really well and forced their big kids to kick the ball back out. And we hit the defense boards hard.'

Kelly Marchant scores big

Marchant had a big night for the Pioneers, scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting - with three 3-pointers, and stealing the ball 3 times.

Chase (11 points) also reached double figures in scoring.

Paige Halberg fired the Pioneer offense with 9 assists.

Lindsey Shearer came through with a team-high 4 steals.

Margaret Johnson (12 points) was the only Laker to reach double figures in scoring.

The loss ended a Laker win string at 15 games. It was Lake Oswego's lowest scoring game of the season since the Lakers' season opener. Lake Oswego entered the contest out-scoring opponents by an average tally of 56-34.

'[This win] was pretty big for me,' said Guelsdorf. 'Brad [Smith] and Carl [Tinsley] have established a tradition that is unparalleled anywhere in the country. And there was a tremendous weight on my shoulders to keep it going.

'Brad has helped me a lot over the last three years, making me a better coach. But tonight belongs to the kids. They are the ones that did it, and they deserve all the credit. This group of kids is something special.'

The Pioneer program appears to be as healthy as it's ever been. Prior to the Lake Oswego varsity game, Oregon City's jayvee team handled its Laker counterparts 53-31.

Looking ahead to postseason play, Buhler says she believes the Pioneers have a decent chance of recapturing their state title.

'It's going to be a challenge, but I think we have enough heart to pull it through, as long as we stay focused,' she said.

The Pioneers enter the Class 6A state playoffs as the TRL's No. 2 seed. Lake Oswego won a coin flip for the league's top seed.

The Pioneers were to host Sunset (12-13), the fourth seed from the Metro League, in Tuesday's (Feb. 27) first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

With a win they'd advance to a Friday second-round game at Central Valley League champion McKay (18-6). McKay played West Linn twice during the regular season, losing 60-41 and 57-53.

Should the Pioneers prevail in both games, they'll advance to the eight-team Class 6A State Tournament, where they'll likely square off with top-ranked Central Catholic (21-2) at 8:15 p.m. in the Wednesday, March 7, first round.

The Rams enter the state playoffs riding a 19-game win string, their only losses to seventh-ranked Reynolds (53-45) on Dec. 5 and to Villa Park, Calif. (39-37) on Dec. 21.

Pioneers hit season high 92

The Pioneers were at the top of their game in last week's regular-season final at Putnam.

The Pioneers' 92-point winning score was a season high. Thirteen Oregon City players scored and the Pioneers had 30 assists on 32 baskets. They came up with 21 steals and they hauled down 42 rebounds in the fast-paced game.

The Pioneers went on a 32-17 run in the second quarter to put the game on ice.

Buhler hit six 3-pointers en route to a game-high 20 points.

Whitney Chase (18 points), freshman Brittany Knighton (14 points) and Marchant (11 points) also reached double figures in scoring.

Oregon City point guard Sarah Boyd, seeing her most action since recuperating from knee surgery, served up 8 assists and made 4 steals.

Kenna Borgmeier had 5 assists; Knight had 6 rebounds and 4 steals.

Katie Maher scored 13 points to lead the Kingsmen.

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