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Braves run win streak to five

Banks races to a 50-40 win against Gladstone in its final tune-up before Cowapa League play

Take a veteran group of seniors with state tournament experience, add some talented but raw youngsters, then sit back and wait five weeks to see what happens.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD
 - Banks senior Ariel Slifka goes up for a left-handed layup during last Friday's nonleague girls basketball game against Gladstone. The Braves won, 50-40.

That has been the formula for Banks girls basketball coach Brandon Begley this season, and so far it’s working to perfection.

Begley took a core that included all-league players like Megan Bunn and Ariel Slifka, and then he slowly folded in promising young talent like freshman Aspen Slifka. The result has been an 11-3 nonleague record and a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Corbett and Gladstone last week.

“We’ve been playing a lot better as of late,” Begley said. “We had some young kids who needed to come along a little bit and learn about the speed of the varsity game.

“We knew what we were going to get from our seniors. Those younger players just needed to learn from them and learn to play together.”

The Braves relied on both their experienced older players and their promising youngsters last week, routing Corbett 60-31 at home on Tuesday and then outlasting Gladstone 50-40 on Friday.

Against Corbett, the visiting Cardinals hung around for the first eight minutes before Banks pulled away with a 20-5 run in the second quarter. Bunn scored seven points in that period, then added eight more in the third on her way to a team-high 18 points. Ariel Slifka added eight points, senior Cassie Streblow had six and junior Anna Klein also scored six.

Meanwhile, sophomore post Sydney Gregg came off the bench to score nine points, including six in the fourth quarter as the Braves pulled away.

Rhiley Fritz scored 21 of Corbett’s 31 points in the game, going 13-for-18 from the free throw line to do most of her damage. Only three other players scored for the Cardinals, who made five field goals in the first quarter but managed just three more the rest of the way.

Three nights later, on the road against Gladstone (6-7), it was a freshman who stepped up and provided the spark.

Aspen Slifka scored a game-high 18 points, and her tenacious defense helped the Braves force 23 turnovers and overcome a spirited effort from Gladstone.

The Gladiators trailed by one point at halftime and took a brief 34-32 lead in the third quarter when Jessica Peterson knocked down a 3-pointer.

But that was when Banks ratcheted up the defensive intensity, switching to a full-court press and harassing the Gladiators into eight turnovers in the third period alone. Aspen Slifka converted a breakaway layup off a steal by Klein in the closing seconds of the quarter to give the Braves a 40-34 lead.

The advantage grew quickly in the fourth as Gladstone missed its first five shots from the field. Consecutive fast break layups by Bunn, Ariel Slifka and Aspen Slifka stretched the margin to 46-35 and Banks cruised the rest of the way.

“Aspen was great on both ends of the floor for us,” Begley said of his freshman’s play. “She got a lot of steals that turned into buckets at the other end for both her and her teammates. She was a big spark for us.”

Bunn also cracked double figures for the Braves, scoring 12 points. Ariel Slifka finished with six points, while Streblow, Klein and Karlie Gerlinger had four points apiece.

Last Friday’s game was the final nonleague tune-up for Banks, which began Cowapa League play on Tuesday against Astoria (results were not available at press time). The Braves travel to Seaside on Friday for an important early season showdown with the Seagulls.

“The league is improved this year, but I still think it’s going to come down to us, Seaside and Valley Catholic,” Begley said. “We’re excited to have a chance to compete with those teams for a league title.”

The most exciting part, however, may be that the Braves are still just scratching the surface of how good they can be.

“We feel good, but we also feel like we have a lot of room for improvement,” Begley said. “The exciting thing is, we still haven’t had everyone play well on the same night. When that happens, it’s going to be fun to see.”