The Mustangs are tested, but they defeat Liberty in a 43-40 barnburner

by: JAIME VALDEZ - With other players poised to rebound, Milwaukie senior Alexis Noren (2) attempts a late-game free throw in last weeks 43-40 win over Liberty. Noren made the shot, which was Milwaukies 43rd point of the game and Norens 1,000th point of her high school career.Milwaukie coeds last week gained the inside track in the Northwest Oregon Conference girls basketball league title chase, boosting their conference record to 10-0 (17-2 overall) with wins over cross-town rival Putnam (67-36) and over NWOC title pretender Liberty (43-40).

Friday’s win over Liberty was a school-record sixteenth win in a row for the Mustangs, and it gained them a two-game lead over the second-place Falcons (10-10, 8-2) with but four NWOC league games remaining.

The Mustangs can clinch at least a tie for the title with wins in two of their last four games, and they can clinch their first outright, unshared league title in school history with three more NWOC wins.

“It’s really important to us that we win out [in league play],” said Milwaukie senior co-captain Alexis Noren. “Not so much because of the [outright] league title, but for the state rankings. The league we’re in is not very strong, and we need to beat everyone because we want to get a good seed for the state playoffs.”

Milwaukie was ranked fifth in the state after Friday night’s win over the 15th-ranked Liberty Falcons.

Friday’s win had special significance for Noren. When she scored Milwaukie’s final point of the game in the 43-40 victory, it was the 1,000th point of her high school varsity career. She scored 169 points as a freshman, 254 as a sophomore, 272 as a junior, and through play last Friday she had 305 points in 19 games this season, a 16-point-per-game average.

Milwaukie coach Kevin McElroy presented Noren with the game ball following Friday’s game for her rare accomplishment.

Asked what hitting 1,000 points means to her, Noren said:

“I don’t know. I’m speechless.... I guess it is an honor, but it’s not something any of my teammates couldn’t do. We all have such talent and potential in this sport.”

Asked what she was thinking when she stepped to the charity stripe to attempt a free throw for her 1,000th point, Noren said: “When I shot it, I had no idea [it was the 1,000th point]. When you’re playing the game you focus on the game and not individual stuff.”

She added, “For Milwaukie, it doesn’t matter who scores for us. Just that we do score, and win.”

Friday’s game was no cakewalk for the Mustangs. They led most of the way, but they struggled at times to get the ball up the floor against Liberty’s aggressive full-court press. And they lost their rhythm in the fourth quarter when McElroy elected to take the air out of the ball with his Mustangs nursing a 36-31 lead.

The Mustangs turned the ball over six times and went scoreless for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.

“Their press also gave us trouble last time we played them,” Noren said. “It’s something we’re going to need to work on in practice. I think one of our biggest strengths is passing the ball. When we put our heads down and start dribbling, it causes problems.”

The Mustangs owned their biggest lead of the night, at 32-22, when Taylor Cunningham scored on a putback near the midpoint of the third quarter.

A 3-point basket by Liberty 5-6 senior Kylie Wruble with 3:57 remaining in the game put Liberty up 39-36, gaining the Falcons their first lead of the game.

Following a Mustang turnover, the Falcons pulled the ball out and played keep away. Liberty freshman starter Sydney Smalley made one of two free throws with 1:47 left to up the Falcon lead to 40-36.

But there was no quit in the Mustangs. At 1:37, Lorissa Martine burned the net from 3-point land to make it a one-point game, at 40-39.

The Mustangs then wreaked havoc with their own full-court pressure, forcing an errant Falcon pass and turnover.

At 1:24, Milwaukie senior sharpshooter April Meads cashed in from downtown, and the Mustangs were back in the driver’s seat, leading 42-40.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Milwaukie senior Lorissa Martine (3) is overcome with emotion after classmate April Meads (left) hits a late-game 3-pointer in last Fridays Northwest Oregon Conference game with Liberty. The basket put the Mustangs up 42-40 and they went on to win 43-40, earning their sixteenth straight victory.At 1:13, Liberty junior guard McKenzie Oster was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one. A Falcon was charged with a foul on the rebound, and the ball was handed over to the Mustangs.

Noren was fouled and made her 1,000th point on the front end of a one-and-one, gaining the Mustangs their 43-40 winning edge.

A last second attempt at a 3-pointer by Oster fell off the mark. Meads claimed the rebound, and the Mustangs celebrated the hard fought victory.

Noren said of the Falcons: “They’re tough. They have two amazing shooters and two really good posts, and they play really good defense. It took our best effort to get this one. They earned our respect and I hope we earned theirs.”

Noren paced the Mustangs in scoring with 13 points.

Wruble led the Falcons, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring a game-high 20 points.

Milwaukie was to host St. Helens (8-12, 2-8) on Feb. 12. The Mustangs finish up the regular season, hosting Sherwood (7-12, 6-4) this Thursday, playing Parkrose (9-9-, 6-4) on the road next Tuesday, and entertaining Sandy (3-16, 1-9) on Friday, Feb. 22.

Liberty (10-10, 8-2) entered play this week with league games remaining with Wilsonville (8-11, 5-5), Sandy, Putnam (4-15, 2-8) and Sherwood.

It took the Mustangs awhile to get going in last week’s game with Putnam. But once they got rolling, there was no stopping them.

Putnam was within six points, trailing 26-20, with three minutes remaining in the first half. But Emily Downs, Lorissa Martine and Alexis Noren then answered Putnam misses with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers, and it was all over but the shouting. Milwaukie was up 35-23 at the intermission, and the Mustangs widened the gap from there.

Four Milwaukie players reached double figures in scoring against the Kingsmen — Noren (20 points), Martine (16 points), Downs (14 points) and Meads (11 points). Led by Martine (3 treys), all four hit at least one 3-pointer.

Noren was 7-for-12 from the field, with two 3-point baskets. She also had seven assists and three steals.

Martine was a terror on defense, with six steals.

Kelsea Baton scored 14 points to lead the Kingsmen.

Putnam had a bad case of turnover-itis last Thursday, as the Kingsmen got blown out by Parkrose 57-34.

Twenty-nine turnovers proved costly, as the Kingsmen fell behind early and were playing catch-up all the way.

Parkrose 5-6 senior Jacia Jointer was on fire, attacking the basket for a game-high 22 points.

Freshman Brooke Snyder had a big game on the inside for Putnam, corralling nine rebounds, all in the second half.

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