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Lady Braves waltz into state playoffs

Banks races to a 48-31 victory over Marshfield in a state play-in game


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Banks senior Lauren Birr drives to the basket during last Friday's Class 4A state play-in game against Marshfield. Birr scored 13 points to help the Lady Braves to a 48-31 victory.Banks is back.

Back in the state playoffs, that is.

Last season, the Banks girls basketball team earned an automatic berth into the Class 4A playoffs by virtue of winning the Cowapa League title. After a second-place finish this year, the Braves had to play their way in.

And that is just what they did last Friday, handling a pretty good Marshfield team 48-31 to punch a ticket into the 16-team playoff field.

The Braves travel to a first-round game at Philomath this Friday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the eight-team state tournament, scheduled for March 12-15 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

“It’s sweet to win this game, especially on your home floor,” Banks coach Brandon Begley said while the team celebrated with fans after the game. “Anything we do from here on out is just icing on the cake. That was our biggest goal, is to get back to the state playoffs, so we’re happy.”

Against the Pirates, the Braves (17-7) led practically the entire game, though the advantage felt a tad tenuous at 26-20 late in the third quarter. But Banks poured on the points in the final stanza, outscoring Marshfield 20-11 to seal a fourth consecutive playoff berth.

Lauren Birr had a lot to do with that fourth-quarter success, as the senior guard went 7-for-7 from the free throw line and scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the final eight minutes.

“I felt great about the game,” Birr said. “Everyone was so pumped before the game. We were all cheering and ready to go, and we came out, we just felt a whole lot of energy right from the start.”

The Braves played tenaciously on both sides of the ball throughout, and they never trailed. In fact, the only time they did not lead the contest was at 2-2 early in the first quarter.

That intensity turned into a 15-4 lead late in the first when Birr sank a bucket on a drive through the paint just a couple seconds before the buzzer.

“We knew that Marshfield would be a tough opponent, especially not knowing a whole lot about them,” Begley noted. “We told the girls it was important to come out and get off to a good start. And they did that. The energy and intensity was there.”

But despite its early deficit, Marshfield (16-9) hung around. Led by 14 points from Katelynn Rossback and 11 from Jade Chavez, the Pirates still trailed just 19-12 at halftime, and they cut the lead to 26-20 when Carli Clarkson went 1-for-2 at the charity stripe with 1:08 to play in the third.

But Banks was all over it, going on an 8-0 run over the next four-plus minutes to bump the margin to 34-20.

Birr, especially, came up big, opening the fourth quarter with a hoop on a Megan Bunn feed and getting another under the basket while being fouled. Her free throw to complete the three-point play with 5:57 left put the Braves up 33-20, and the Pirates could never get within single digits after that.

Bunn added nine points for Banks, and Hannah VanDomelen, Amy Hilger and Madison Soper added five apiece. In all, 10 Banks players scored at least one point.

As for this week’s game, third-seeded Philomath will pose a first-round challenge for No. 14 Banks. The Warriors (20-3) swept through the Oregon West Conference with a perfect 10-0 record this winter, and they enter the playoffs on an eight-game win streak.

Philomath’s only losses this season were to Class 5A Lebanon (45-38), Cowapa champion Seaside (48-34), and No. 1 and undefeated Sutherlin (40-34).

The Braves and Warriors also have quite a bit of history — most recently, Philomath turned back Banks 46-34 at a tournament in January in Sisters. Perhaps even more significant, Friday’s meeting will be the two programs’ fourth in the playoffs in as many seasons.

In both 2011 and 2013, Banks prevailed in first-round home games against Philomath to advance to the state tournament. The two teams also met up at Gill Coliseum two seasons ago, when Banks won the third-fifth place game 38-35 for its best-ever finish.

Tierra Stephenson, a 5-foot-4 senior guard, was a first team all-league pick for the Warriors last season, while 5-6 senior wing Madeline Lehman earned a second team nod.

Banks does come into the game riding high. After last Friday’s performance, Birr was ready to go.

“I feel like we gotta focus on the next game,” Birr said. “We can’t think about state at all right now. And the next game, I think that we’re so pumped now that we just want to go out and just do another one. I want to go play right now.”

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