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Braves passing early tests

Banks girls are rounding into form as they tackle a daunting early-season schedule in nonleague play

The Banks girls basketball team now knows exactly where the bar is set.

The Braves aren’t exactly shying away from a tough nonleague schedule this season, and that continued last Tuesday, when they entertained Cascade, the third-place finisher at last winter’s Class 4A state tournament.

Banks coach Brandon Begley said that the Cougars have been tabbed as a state title contender, and they played like it, pulling away for a 44-33 win. They have since taken over the No. 1 spot in the OSAA’s Class 4A power rankings.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES
 - Banks freshman Aspen Slifka brings the ball up the court against defensive pressure from Cascade's Alyssa St. Peter during last Tuesday's nonleague girls basketball game.

So now the Braves — who entered the week ranked No. 3 — know what it takes to get where they want to be.

“(It was) kind of an eye-opener of we’re a decent team, but we’ve got a ways to go to be at the top,” Begley assessed afterward.

But maybe not that far.

The Braves (5-2) battled every step of the way and rallied from a double-digit deficit to make it a game before Cascade finally put it away for good. If they can tighten up a few areas of play in the coming weeks, they too will be a team to reckon with at season’s end.

“I think we did good. I think we have a long way to come, but I think we’ll get there,” said Karlie Gerlinger, who scored eight points for Banks. “I think our team’s going to come together really nicely toward the middle/end of the season.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES
 - Banks senior guard Jamie Borchers dribbles the ball up court during last Tuesday's nonleague girls basketball game against Cascade.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Cougars (5-1) built a 10-point lead at 28-18 when Danielle Haddix knocked down a jumper midway through the third quarter. But Banks responded with a 10-4 run the rest of the period and could have even cut it to two points, but Jamie Borchers’ layup attempt with a few seconds left rimmed out.

Cascade finally seized control for good in the fourth quarter, in large part thanks to Halle Wright, a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard who did it all for the Cougars, including scoring a game-high 27 points. She scored eight of her team’s 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“I think we prepared for them pretty well,” Begley said. “The one thing that we didn’t prepare for — and it’s hard to prepare for — is how to deal with somebody like Halle Wright and how to guard her and try to limit what she does. She was the difference in the game.”

Early on, Cascade went ahead 4-0, but Banks got two points each from five different players to take a 10-4 lead about a minute into the second quarter. Banks’ last lead came midway through the period, when Ariel Slifka scored off a Megan Bunn assist to make it 14-13.

With Cascade seeming especially focused on disrupting Banks’ posts, some of the team’s less experienced varsity players stepped up and showed their potential. Freshman guard Aspen Slifka led the Braves with nine points and played tough at the top of team’s zone defense, and Gerlinger showed her versatility in scoring her eight points.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking at the beginning, but as you get into it, you just kind of adjust,” Aspen Slifka said. “It got easier.”

Sister Ariel added seven points for Banks, while Alyssa St. Peter scored nine for Cascade.

“I’m happy with the way that we fought. I’m happy with the intensity,” Begley said. “Now what we need to fix is just the confidence, because everything else is there.”

After the loss to the Cougars, the Braves quickly rebounded to put together a three-game win streak en route to the North Marion Holiday Classic title.

Last Thursday, Banks got a measure of revenge by beating No. 6 Molalla, 44-33. The Indians had edged the Braves 57-56 in both teams’ season opener back on Dec. 4. The next day, Banks dismantled Class 6A Cleveland, 60-23. On Saturday, the team bested previously undefeated Regis, 48-32, in the championship game.

In that final, the Braves trailed the Rams 12-9 after one quarter but outscored them 32-10 over the next two periods to build a healthy 41-22 lead.

Borchers keyed that surge by scoring seven of her team-high 13 points in the second quarter. Anna Klein also reached double figures with 11 points and Bunn added eight.

Regis’ Paige Rickman led all scorers with 14 points.

Banks is back in action next week at the Sisters Tournament Dec. 28-30. The Braves also have a game scheduled at Dayton on Jan. 2.