Milwaukie girls go 14-0 in the NWOC, win their first outright league title

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Milwaukie senior starters (from left) Emily Downs, Taylor Cunningham, Lorissa Martine, April Meads and Alexis Noren have made quite a run in their four years at Milwaukie. Over the last four years the Mustangs have gone 39-15 in league play and 69-32 overall in girls basketball. In the previous four years the Mustangs went 1-49 in league and 7-90 overall. The Mustangs this year went undefeated in league for the first time in school history and they take a 20-game win string into Saturdays state playoffs.The Milwaukie Mustangs are flying high heading into postseason play in Oregon high school girls basketball. They hit back-to-back season highs of 68 and 71 points in last week’s final games of the Northwest Oregon Conference league season.

With routs of Sandy (71-46) and Parkrose (68-50) in last week’s league finals, the Mustangs (21-2 overall) finished the NWOC season at 14-0, earning their first undefeated league season and first outright league title in school history.

Last Friday’s win over Sandy was the Milwaukie’s 20th straight victory in a school-record win string. The Mustangs (21-2) have gone undefeated against Class 5A opponents this season. Milwaukie’s only losses this season were to Class 6A Oregon City (65-51) and to Class 6A Jesuit (49-43 in overtime) in early December. Oregon City (22-1) ended up ranked first in the state in Class 6A.

The Mustangs went 13-1 in the NWOC last year, when they shared the title with Wilsonville. The only other time a Milwaukie girls basketball team won or shared a league title in girls basketball was in 1980, when the Mustangs shared the title with Oregon City.

Milwaukie enters postseason play ranked sixth in the OSAA power rankings — behind Springfield (21-3), West Albany (23-0), Willamette (19-4), Bend (18-5) and Hermiston (15-8).

The high ranking gains the Mustangs a home game in the 5A state playoffs on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the eight-team Class 5A State Tournament at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. The Mustangs placed fourth at state last year, earning their first state-tournament trophy in girls basketball in school history.

It was the Taylor Cunningham show on Tuesday, Feb. 19, as the 5-6 senior lit up the scoreboard for a career-high 27 points in a 68-50 win at Parkrose.

Cunningham made 10-of-15 field goals, and she was a sizzling 6-for-8 on 3-pointers.

“Taylor kind of dominated the game,” said Milwaukie coach Kevin McElroy. “They had a big girl who was clogging up the middle. It left Taylor open outside, and she was knocking them down. She hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter.”

Cunningham’s previous season high was 11 points in a Jan. 22 58-43 win at Sherwood, and in a 63-25 rout of St. Helens on Feb. 12.

“Taylor’s been consistent for us in recent games, scoring 9 to 11 points,” McElroy said.

The Mustangs also got 13 points from Emily Downs, and 12 points and eight assists from Alexis Noren in the Parkrose game, as they built a 21-10 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Lorissa Martine headed the defense, with six steals.

The Mustangs put Sandy away early in last Friday’s game with the Pioneers, which was played on senior night at Milwaukie.

The Mustangs hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter, opening up a 21-9 lead. And the game was never close after that.

Led by April Meads (13 points), who hit four 3-pointers, the Mustangs had nine three-point baskets in the game.

Alexis Noren had a big night, hitting 9-of-10 free throws and scoring a game-high 28 points.

Emily Downs scored 15 points, connecting three times from beyond the arc.

Milwaukie honored six seniors during the senior night ceremonies — starters Noren, Martine, Meads, Downs and Cunningham, and reserve guard Hana Whisman.

Following Friday’s game, the seniors described what making school history with their first outright league title means to them.

“It’s really incredible,” Cunningham said. “I’m really proud of my team. They’re family, and I couldn’t ask for a better family. We’re all good friends and this is something we’ll never forget.”

“This means the world to me,” Downs said. “I’m so excited we could do this. I’m hoping we can go on to state and win some more.”

“I’m speechless,” Meads said. “It’s so special to be a part of all these records over the last two years. I’m really going to miss it when it’s over. It’s been a trip.”

“It’s hard to process it all,” Martine said. “For me though, it’s about time. We’ve worked so hard. I think it’s a life lesson. You can make anything happen if you put your mind to it. I’m proud of my team.”

“It’s an honor to be part of this program,” said Noren. “To be able to share this experience with such a good group of girls, I couldn’t ask for more....

“I’m excited to see what we can do at state.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Milwaukie senior Hana Whisman defends against Sandy junior Paola Phipps in last Fridays game with the Pioneers. It was an historic night for the Mustangs, who wrapped up their first undefeated league season in school history with a 71-46 rout of the Pioneers.“It’s a huge honor for me, because my freshman year I was a first-year player in competitive basketball,” Whisman said. “I’ve had to work my way up. To have this opportunity now is really cool.”

Asked what he thought about his Mustangs’ winning their first outright title and setting a school-record with a 20-game win string, McElroy said, “I hadn’t thought that much about it. I’ve been focussing on the playoffs. The competition will go up, and hopefully we’ll be playing our best basketball of the year at the right time.”

McElroy added, “It’s a tremendous honor for me, just to coach this group of girls. They’ve certainly earned everything they’ve accomplished.”

McElroy said he is happy to have eight days between the Mustangs’ last regular-season and Saturday’s playoff game.

“It gives me a chance to develop a good game plan,” he said. “And with our seniors and their leadership, I feel good about our chances.”

Putnam coeds

are competitors

The Rex Putnam Kingsmen proved once again last week that they are not that far back of the top teams in the Northwest Oregon Conference in terms of competitiveness, as they gave Northwest Oregon Conference runner-up Liberty a run for its money in a 49-43 loss, and they took Wilsonville down to the wire in a 45-38 loss.

With Friday’s loss at Wilsonville, the Kingsmen finished the season with a 4-10 record in the NWOC (6-17 overall). Six of their 10 league losses were in close games, where they lost by eight or fewer points.

Putnam was ahead of Liberty 28-23 at halftime and it was still a 2-point game, at 43-41, with two minutes left to play.

“We turned the ball over twice, on a travel and when we threw the ball away,” said Putnam assistant coach Kris Leatherman “Then they made their free throws....

“In the end, it was their senior leadership versus our inexperience, and their senior leadership won out.”

McKenzie Oster (15 points) led three Liberty players in double digits in scoring, while junior wing Kelsea Baton (17 points, 4 assists) was the only player in double figures for Putnam.

Leatherman said that Carly Bolander’s defensive play on Liberty offensive star Kylie Wruble was pivotal in keeping the Kingsmen in the game until the end.

“Wruble’s their leading scorer and she hurt us the last time we played them [a 68-53 loss],” Leatherman said. “Carly held her to just seven points.”

Bolander also came through with a season-high six rebounds, and she came up with three steals, Leatherman said.

Friday’s game with Wilsonville was another barnburner. Putnam was within two points with three minutes to play, but the Kingsmen turned cold from the field and turned the ball over down the stretch.

Ali Schooley, a 5-4 junior guard, had a big game at Wilsonville, scoring a team-high 12 points, hauling down a season-high 10 rebounds, assisting on three baskets, and blocking three shots.

Leatherman praised Bolander for her defensive play on Wilsonville offensive leader Brynn Lio.

“Carly did a phenomenal job on Brynn Lio,” he said. “She held Lio to 7 points. Lio scored 24 in Wilsonville’s upset of Sherwood.”

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