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Lady Braves earn bronze (again)

Banks girls follow their third-place finish in volleyball by taking third at the 4A state basketball tournament
by: Zack Palmer Banks senior Marla Gooding brings the ball upcourt against Philomath’s Tierra Stephenson during Saturday’s third-place game at the Class 4A state basketball tournament.

CORVALLIS - There was a moment on Friday night, in the locker room following his team's 39-32 loss to Sutherlin in the Class 4A state semifinals, when Banks girls basketball coach Nick Rizzo wasn't sure if his team could compose itself in time to play for third place on Saturday afternoon.

'It was a mess in there,' Rizzo said of the postgame locker room scene. 'We were a broken team, but we had to go back to the hotel and get some sleep and try to shake it off.'

Shake it off they did, and in the moments following the Lady Braves' gutsy 38-35 win over Philomath on Saturday, Rizzo could not have been prouder.

'It's really just hard to describe,' he said. 'That third-place game, that was as proud of these kids as I've ever been. To come back from what happened Friday and to win it the way they did, I was just so proud of them.'

If Banks was a broken team following Friday's semifinal loss, the Lady Braves continued to be broken through the first half of Saturday's consolation final. Banks attempted just eight field goals in the first two quarters and shot 37 percent from the free throw line while digging itself a 19-9 halftime deficit.

When Philomath's Brenna Marshall hit a jump shot to open the third quarter and make it 21-9, it appeared as if the Lady Braves were as good as done.

Not by a long shot.

Samantha Duyck got things started for Banks (21-5) when she scored off an offensive rebound, and moments later Melissa Masters drained a three-pointer from the right corner to get within 21-14. Three minutes later, Masters hit a cutting Kaylin Vandomelen for a layup that capped a 14-1 run and put Banks ahead, 23-22.

'We were trying to figure out what to run, so we switched things up and went with a press in the second half and that seemed to bother them a lot,' Rizzo said. 'When we started to score in the third quarter, the kids seemed to relax a little bit and battle back. That was a tough team to come back against.'

Philomath (22-6) regained a one-point lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, but Banks answered with back-to-back three-pointers from Masters and fellow senior Marla Gooding, which put the Lady Braves on top 31-26 with 3:15 remaining.

Banks led by as many as six points down the stretch before Philomath's Tegan Grunwald cut it to 36-35 with 28 seconds left on a three-pointer and a layup in quick succession. Gooding and Masters each sunk a free throw to push the lead back to 38-35, and Philomath's Shanna Thomas missed a three at the buzzer, lifting the Lady Braves to a third-place finish.

'Philomath played probably the best half-court defense we've seen all season. Nothing was easy,' Rizzo said. 'The kids were frustrated at halftime, but we said, 'Bottom line, we've got 16 minutes left in the season. Let's go get a win.''

Masters sparked Banks in the second half, scoring 13 of her team-high 15 points, including 7-for-11 shooting from the free throw line. Gooding had six points and three assists, while eight other players scored for Banks.

That balanced scoring also played a big role in the Braves' quarterfinal win over Mazama on Wednesday. While Mazama primarily used only six players, Banks went 10 deep and had eight different players score in a 44-33 victory.

Masters led the Lady Braves with 14 points, including perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Abby Hardie had five points and seven rebounds, Duyck had five points and six rebounds, and Gooding had five points and four assists. Aubrey Rue added six points for Banks.

'That was a good game,' Rizzo said. 'We had a good start to the game, but Mazama came out and took it to us a little bit in the third quarter.'

After leading by eight points at halftime, Banks saw Mazama (23-6) tie things up at 28-28 in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Gooding came to the rescue with two tremendous passes, feeding Hardie for a pair of buckets that sparked a 10-2 run. Masters capped the surge with a three-point play, and the Lady Braves went on to win by 11.

'We closed the game out on a 16-3 run when it was all said and done,' Rizzo said. 'Marla had two big passes that helped us get the momentum back after Mazama tied things up.'

The two wins were unquestionably the highlight of the week for the Lady Braves, who had their state championship dreams dashed on Friday against undefeated Sutherlin.

The second-ranked Lady Bulldogs (28-0) played ferocious first-half defense, harassing Banks into 5-for-24 shooting from the field, including three botched breakaway layups.

'It was just one of those games,' Rizzo said afterward. 'It wasn't necessarily that we weren't getting good looks or that we were running bad offensive sets, we just couldn't make a shot.'

Sparked by freshman Miranda Mendenhall, who scored seven points in the first quarter, Sutherlin built a 20-11 halftime lead that stretched to 29-15 on a three-pointer by Kylee Carson near the end of the third quarter.

'The third quarter was the big one. The shots just weren't going in and you could see it affect the kids' psyche a little bit,' Rizzo said. 'I kept looking at my play sheet trying to find some magical play to run to get the ball in the hoop.'

True to form, Banks refused to quit despite the big deficit. Riley Gerlinger converted a three-point play to start the fourth quarter, and seconds later Masters stole a pass and fed Hardie for a three-pointer that cut the gap to 29-21.

Hardie followed with her own three-point play, and the Lady Braves got as close as 31-26 on a tough driving layup by Vandomelen with six minutes remaining.

Banks would get no closer, going scoreless over the next four-and-a-half minutes as Sutherlin built its lead back up to 36-26. Gooding hit a three-pointer with 1:30 left in the game, but it was too little, too late, and Sutherlin iced the game from the free throw line.

'We were all just very, very disappointed because we knew that the opportunity was there, and we knew if we got to the championship game then we had a real shot at winning the whole thing,' Rizzo said. 'I felt awful for the kids, especially the senior kids. I couldn't come up with any words to make them feel better.'

Hardie led Banks with eight points and nine rebounds, and Gooding chipped in six points. Vandomelen and Gerlinger had five points apiece for the Lady Braves.

'The one thing I learned at the tournament this year is that to win a state title, it takes some luck,' Rizzo said. 'It's so, so difficult to win a state title in basketball. Everything has to align just right, and for one night things didn't align for us.'

Banks will graduate four seniors from this year's team - including four-year starters Hardie, Gooding and Masters - but the Lady Braves will also return eight players next season, when they will be gunning for a third consecutive state tournament appearance.

'We graduate some great seniors, but I think we're in position to be very good again next year,' Rizzo said. 'These three seniors will be really difficult to replace, but these other kids have learned a lot from those three over the last few years.

'I think we're in a position to make some waves in 4A basketball for years to come.'



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