Banks digs itself a big first-quarter deficit and can't recover in a 35-27 playoff loss

The beginning was what doomed the Banks girls basketball team in the end.

In a Class 4A first round state playoff game at Philomath last Friday — with a state tournament berth on the line — the Braves spotted the Warriors a 17-3 first-quarter lead thanks in part to some decidedly un-Banks-like play.

The Braves did rebound through the rest of the matchup, outscoring No. 3 Philomath 24-18 over the final 24 minutes, but ultimately the early deficit proved too much to overcome in a 35-27 defeat.

“We just had a horrible first quarter, and then that ended up being the downfall for us,” Banks coach Brandon Begley said about the start. “They were just making everything and our defense wasn’t playing up to the level that it usually does. And offensively, we just couldn’t make anything.”

With the loss, No. 14 Banks finished the season at 17-8, just missing out on its fourth consecutive Class 4A state tournament berth and losing to the Warriors for the second time this season. Philomath (21-3), which picked up its ninth win in a row, drew a quarterfinal matchup against No. 6 Mazama at 6:30 p.m. today at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

Begley said that before the game, the team had a discussion about the importance of a strong start. But the nerves seemed to affect the Braves early on, in Begley’s assessment.

So after that rough opening eight minutes, the coach rallied his team during the brief interlude between quarters.

“I said, ‘You guys have a choice,’” he recalled. “‘We’ve worked for three months, and we’ve worked too hard to have it end like this. So you guys have a choice. Either you can fold up and call it quits or you guys can battle back and make it a game.’”

The Braves chose the second option, upping their defensive intensity — playing with greater urgency, communicating, rebounding and getting deflections, Begley said — and limiting Philomath to just six points over the second and third quarters. That allowed Banks to cut the deficit to as few as five points in the second half, but the visitors could not complete the rally, never totally overcoming their shooting woes.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity,” Begley said. “Our offense just wasn’t there the entire night. We missed so many easy shots and missed free throws. We just didn’t have it offensively.

“Obviously some of the credit has to go to Philomath, but at the same time, there (were) a lot of great shots that we just didn’t capitalize on.”

Megan Bunn led all scorers with 11 points, and Ariel Slifka was also in double figures with 10. Madeline Lehman paced Philomath with nine points.

The loss brought to an end the high school careers of starters Lauren Birr and Amy Hilger, as well as Morgan Nelson, who came out for the team for the first time as a senior.

Though it was not until toward latter part of their high school careers that they started contributing most, Birr and Hilger have been part of the most outstanding four-year run in program history that includes three top-six finishes at the state tournament, as well as a 2013 Cowapa League championship.

“What they meant to this team this year, you can’t even really put into words,” Begley said. “Amy and Lauren, they both worked so hard in this offseason because they knew this was their last go-around, and they showed so much improvement.”

While the loss was a difficult one, Begley also noted how far his team progressed over the course of the season. The Braves lost nine members from last winter’s squad, which finished sixth in the state, and this year came within a few points of another tournament bid.

And as for next season, Birr and Hilger will be particularly difficult to replace, but the Braves should bring back plenty of talent in sophomore starters Slifka and Bunn, as well as freshman guard Mary Schorn, among others.

Said Begley: “I think this will be something that motivates the girls throughout the offseason and then will be something that kind of sticks with them all of next season.”

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