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Tualatin fights off North Medford rally

Girls basketball: The Wolves earn their third-straight trip to the state tourney with a 75-69 win
by: DAN BROOD, TOURNEY-BOUND — Tualatin seniors, from left, Niki Paulson, Lindsey Wilcox, Jen Gruss and Sam Child celebrate following the Wolves' 75-69 win over North Medford.

TUALATIN - The Tualatin High School girls basketball team wasn't going to be denied.

The Timberwolves were determined to do everything they could to make sure that they wouldn't be deprived of their third straight trip to the state tournament - even if it meant fighting off a furious rally by a talented North Medford team.

With that in mind, Tualatin punched its ticket for the Class 6A state tournament by downing the persistent Black Tornado squad 75-69 in a state playoff second round game played Friday at Tualatin High School.

'This is so exciting,' said Tualatin senior Sam Child, who scored a team-high 20 points in the playoff victory. 'We're going back to the state tournament. Three in a row - that's just awesome.'

Tualatin, the Pacific Conference champion, improved to 23-2 on the season with the victory, which was its 17th straight win. The Timberwolves will open play at the Class 6A state tourney, being held at the University of Portland's Chiles Center, with a quarterfinal game with Jesuit Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m.

'(Tualatin coach Todd) Jukkala told us from now on out it's all gravy,' Tualatin senior Lindsey Wilcox said after the victory. 'I don't really like gravy, but I'll like this gravy.'

'We want to go there and do our best,' Child said. 'It's great. All of the girls worked hard for this.'

The Wolves certainly needed to put in plenty of hard work to get the win over North Medford, the No. 2 team from the Southwest Conference, which ended its season with a final record of 21-6.

Things started off well enough for Tualatin. With Wilcox scoring 11 points in the first quarter, the Wolves, enjoying play at their usual up-tempo style, jumped out to a 20-12 lead at the end of the period.

Tualatin, which shot at an 18-for-36 clip from the field in the in the first half, kept cruising in the second quarter, pushing its lead to 48-30 at halftime.

But North Medford turned the tide in a hurry in the second half. The Black Tornado, sparked by senior post Lauren Berger, went on an 8-0 run in the first 1 minute and 22 seconds of the third quarter to quickly cut the Tualatin lead to 10.

The Timberwolf lead was still at 10 going into the fourth quarter, but North Medford kept chipping away.

A short-range jumper by Berger trimmed the margin to three, at 65-62, with 4:45 left in the contest.

'Right then, we were thinking that we had to pull through,' Child said. 'We all had faith in our team.'

'We were determined. We could not lose,' Tualatin senior point guard Niki Paulson said. 'We did not want it to end tonight.'

Timberwolf freshman post Aly Brown scored on a follow-up shot to push the lead to 67-62 with 3:27 to play. North Medford, with junior Whitney Hodnett going 1-for-2 from the foul line, cut the lead to 67-63 with 2:28 remaining.

The Black Tornado had a chance to get even closer following a Tualatin miss on a three-point attempt, but Tualatin junior post Janelle Cromie came up with what may have been the key defensive play of the game when she stole a Black Tornado pass into the lane with 1:39 left to play.

From there, Tualatin put the game away at the foul line.

'We've been practicing free throws all week,' Child said. 'We thought it might come down to that.'

The Wolves went 8-for-8 from the foul line - with Child going 4-for-4 and senior Jen Gruss and Paulson each going 2-for-2 - in the final 1:18 of the game as Tualatin wrapped up its 75-69 win.

'This is so exciting,' Paulson said. 'It was so close. We came out fast and took it to them. In the second half, we let it slide, and they were great. But we made our free throws.'

'We kept our composure,' Wilcox said.

'I'm real proud of the girls and how they responded to the challenge,' Jukkala said. 'They've responded to challenges all year.'

In addition to her 20 points, Child also had 12 rebounds and four steals in the playoff win. Wilcox had 13 points to go with five rebounds and five steals. Paulson added 10 points. Cromie had nine points, four rebounds and three steals.

For the game, Tualatin made 25 of 67 shots from the field and 23 of 29 free throws. The Wolves went 12-for-13 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Berger led all scorers with 26 points. Hodnett added 22 points for the Black Tornado and senior Megan Ross scored 10.

North Medford made 26 of 59 shots from the field. The Black Tornado shot at a 15-for-28 clip from the field in the second half after making just 11 of 31 first-half shots. North Medford suffered 28 turnovers in the contest against Tualatin's pressure defense.

For a complete game story, with more photos, please see the March 8 issue of the Tigard/Tualatin Times.