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Braves make another deep playoff run

Banks ends the school year on a high note with the softball program's third consecutive trip to the state semifinals

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Banks softball players celebrate at home plate after MaKenna Partain (2) hit a home run in the state semifinals against Henley.State playoff appearances and deep postseason runs are becoming old hat for the Banks softball program, and this season was no different as the Lady Braves battled to their third straight semifinal appearance.

Banks lost to Henley in the semis, denying the Braves a shot at winning their third consecutive Class 4A state championship, but that did little to diminish what the team accomplished this season.

With only four returning starters from last year — and only three of them coming back to play the same position — Banks coach Jenny Compton had to break in some new faces in 2014, but those youngsters rose to the occasion, helping the Braves to a 23-4 overall record that included a season-opening 14-game winning streak.

“The girls should be proud of their season,” Compton said. “We only had three returning starters who were at the same position this year. With the amount of change we had, I thought the girls really came in with a desire to fill those spots.

“Obviously they did a pretty good job with another semifinal appearance. That’s something very impressive that they should be very proud of.”

Coming off back-to-back state titles in 2012 and 2013, expectations were high in Banks and the team rose to meet them. The Braves started the season with four victories at the high-powered North Medford Spring Break Invitational, and they soon added victories against 5A West Albany and 6A Southridge.

The biggest bump in the road came during a three-game losing skid in early May when Banks lost two games to Yamhill-Carlton, the eventual Cowapa League champion, and another to Scappoose before righting the ship and ending the regular season with seven straight wins.

That sent the Braves to the postseason yet again, where they dispatched South Umpqua in the first round and Mazama in the quarterfinals before coming up short against Henley in the semis.

It was a rare postseason loss for Banks, which also enjoyed a run to the state championship game in 2010.

“The last couple years we were able to be on the lucky end of things, to have feelings of elation and not the opposite,” Compton said. “The reality is that most teams end their seasons with a loss, that’s the nature of the playoffs. We’ve been fortunate enough that we haven’t been on that side of it in the last few years.”

While the end of the season may have been a disappointment, the outlook for the future is unquestionably positive, with all but one player set to return next year. Senior first baseman Molly Hammond will graduate, but everyone else is eligible to come back, including all-state selections MaKenna Partain, Hannah VanDomelen, Mary Schorn, Madison Seed and Madison Soper.

Partain repeated as Cowapa League player of the year after her second straight monster season. The sophomore batted .557 with a team-high 44 hits — including 18 for extra bases —as well as 39 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 13 walks. She also went 5-for-10 during Banks’ three state playoff contests, including a dramatic two-run home run against Henley that gave the Braves a brief lead.

VanDomelen and Soper, both juniors, posted batting averages over .400 this season and VanDomelen also took over primary pitching duties. Schorn, an up-and-coming freshman, batted .506 this season with 21 RBIs and 41 runs. Impressively, she struck out just once in 23 games.

That core group will lead Banks back into the fray next spring, when the Braves will likely once again be a state title front-runner.

Volleyball squad earns its fifth

straight trip to the state tournament

The softball diamond wasn’t the only place Banks’ female athletes shined this year, with the volleyball team earning its fifth straight trip to the Class 4A state tournament in Eugene.

The Lady Braves didn’t quite match their runner-up performance from 2010 or their third-place finishes in each of the last two seasons, but another trip to the state tourney was an incredible accomplishment for a team that had to replace a number of key players.

“We always want more, but we told the girls that when they look back on the season, they should be proud of their accomplishments,” Banks co-coach Diana Herb said. “There were no expectations at the beginning of the season that they’d even be at state, but the fact that they were there and they made it — you can’t look beyond that. It was a great season.”

Banks (23-6) was practically invincible during the regular season, running up a 22-4 overall record and going undefeated in Cowapa League play without dropping a single set. The Braves lost only four matches all year, and they all came against fellow state tournament qualifiers — Sisters, Ridgeview, Crook County and Cascade.

In the unforgiving format of the state tournament, however, Banks saw its outstanding season unravel with a 25-11, 25-20, 21-25, 25-23 loss to Sisters in the quarterfinals, sending the Braves to the consolation bracket after just one match.

Banks rallied with a breezy 25-19, 25-13, 25-21 victory against Philomath to stay alive, but Ridgeview ended the Braves’ season with a smothering effort in the tournament’s fourth-place match.

Despite the sixth-place finish, the future is bright for Banks, which will return its entire roster next year except for seniors Taylor Herb and Molly Hammond.

“I think that’s a good thing for next year — basically being able to pick up right where we left off,” Diana Herb said. “The girls are already talking about next year, not dwelling on what happened this year.

“All the girls made huge improvements this year, and now they’ve had that taste of state. Once you’ve been there, it’s sort of expected that you’ll get back there. I think the girls know they’re capable of it.”

Football team races through undefeated regular season

It wasn’t just the girls who made noise at Banks this year, as the football team rolled to an undefeated regular season and a Cowapa League championship. Along the way, the Braves led every minute of every game they played and climbed to No. 1 in the OSAA Class 4A power rankings.

But once the postseason began, Banks suffered an unexpected setback, losing to 12th-ranked Henley to mark the program’s third straight first-round playoff exit.

“It was a great season,” Banks coach Ben Buchanan said. “It just kind of puts a damper on a great year when you lose in the first round and you felt like you could have gone farther. Expectations in the program were high this year, so we feel disappointed.”

While the early playoff exit was undeniably disappointing, this year’s team still left an indelible mark on the program.

The undefeated regular season was the first in school history, and it was Banks’ third league title in the last four years. That success helped Banks land a slew of players on the Cowapa League all-star team, starting with quarterback Garrett Markham, who was named the league’s offensive player of the year.

In addition, linebacker Dylan Bigsby was named defensive player of the year and Buchanan shared coach of the year honors with Scappoose’s Sean McNabb.

All totalled, Banks had six players selected to the all-league first team, and four of them earned first team honors on both sides of the ball.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had as many guys go both ways on the all-league team,” Buchanan said.

While the offensive players earned many of the headlines, it was the Braves’ defense that allowed the team to excel. Over the course of the season, Banks limited opponents to just 11.0 points per game — tops in the state at the Class 4A level — and the Braves recorded a school record four shutouts.

“Defensively I thought we had a great year,” Buchanan said. “Early on, our defense kept us in games until our offense could get clicking, and sometimes that took a while.”

While the end result wasn’t quite what the Braves were expecting, Buchanan was quick to label the season as a success.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever gone 9-0, and that’s really saying something,” he said. “We won a league title, which is hard to come by, but these guys earned it. They ran the table and beat a very good Scappoose team to do it.

“We told these guys, ‘In the short term it may be painful, but you’ve still got a lot to be proud of. This was an outstanding season.’”

Purinton finishes second at state wrestling tournament

Not all of the highlights for Banks came in team sports, as junior Collin Purinton provided some excitement this winter with a second-place finish at the Class 4A wrestling state tournament.

Purinton, who won a 106- pound state championship last year, rolled into the 113-pound finals this season with a 40-1 record, but rival Trayton Libolt of Crook County — who finished second to Purinton in 2013 — spoiled the party with a dramatic 4-3 decision in the title bout.

“I feel like I did really well,” Purinton said about his performance. “I feel like me and Trayton, we just were so much more separated apart from them, because me and him, we pretty much tech falled and pinned everybody else.”

Banks wrestling coach Dan Herb was disappointed with the result, but acknowledged that Purinton ran into a tough opponent in the finals.

“It was a frustrating match from our standpoint. We did a lot of work,” Herb said. “Sometimes the score doesn’t always reflect that. Trayton’s a good wrestler. He’s tough.”

The good news for Banks? Purinton and five other state qualifiers will all be back again next season.

“Overall, it was a good year,” Herb said. “We were proud of them. They handled themselves well. It was an easy group to coach.”

Track team closes out year with strong showing at state

The school year ended on a high note for Banks, with the girls track and field team capturing their fifth district championship in the last six years.

The Lady Braves were impressive at the Cowapa League district meet in late May, and they followed it up with an equally impressive showing the following week at the state track and field meet at Hayward Field in Eugene.

Senior Amy Hilger won a state title in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 5 inches to beat Ridgeview’s Hosanna Wilder, who had edged Hilger for the championship a year earlier. Teammate Ariel Slifka, a sophomore, finished fourth.

On the boys side, junior Dallin Shurts also brought home a state title, winning the discus with a throw of 163-7.

Elsewhere, Kindel Bailey finished second in the girls javelin (139-5), Annie Victor took fourth in the girls discus (124-8) and eighth in the shot put (35-4), Matt Hidalgo was fifth in the boys pole vault (13-6), Garrett Markham was ninth in the boys javelin (159-1) and Devin King raced to a second-place finish in the boys 400 meters (49.66 seconds).

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