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Girls basketball: Banks downs Stayton to advance to state tournament

Braves shake off slow start to blow by Eagles, 53-32, in Class 4A first round

The Braves needed a few minutes to get rid of the cobwebs, but once they did, there was no stopping them.NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: KENT FRASURE  - Banks' Anna Klein takes a shot during the Braves' 53-32 win over Stayton Friday night.

Playing on Friday for the first time after a layoff of more than two weeks, the Banks girls basketball team struggled a bit during the first quarter of its Class 4A state playoff opener against Stayton. But it didn’t take long for the Braves to recover their old rhythm – or their dominance – and they eventually powered to a 53-32 home victory to advance to the state tournament.

No. 2 Banks improved to 22-3 overall and ran its win streak to 16 games. Making its second state tourney appearance in as many seasons, the team is scheduled to play seventh-seeded Sutherlin at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday at Forest Grove High School in the quarterfinal round.

“We came out and looked rusty,” Braves head coach Brandon Begley said. “We’ve had 15 days off, so we thought that may be the case. And they hit a couple shots to get going a little bit early, but then the second quarter and from there on out we really stepped it up and really started to shut them down on defense and really started to play a lot tougher (defense) than we did in that first quarter.”

In fact, the No. 15 Eagles (15-9) hit three 3-pointers in the opening period. Alyssa Lindemann had two of them, the second coming right before the buzzer to give the visitors a 12-10 lead.

That didn’t last long, though, as Banks quickly sorted out its issues and went on a 10-0 run, with Anna Klein scoring four of those points. Her two free throws staked Banks to a 20-12 lead.

Stayton, the third-place team from the Oregon West Conference, finally answered with a pair of Mariah Hollenbeck free throws at the 1:51 mark. But those would be the Eagles’ only tallies of the quarter. Aspen Slifka converted a three-point play at the end of the stanza to put Banks up 25-14 at the break.

“It’s kind of like we get that one play, we get that one basket,” senior post Megan Bunn said. “We just build off of it and we have a lot of momentum going once we get into little runs like that, which keeps us in the game.”

For the entirety of the second half, the Braves enjoyed double-digit leads and were never threatened. Their largest advantage came at 53-28 in the fourth on a Bunn bucket before Stayton closed the contest with scores by Tess Hendricks and Madison Anderson.

Playing on her home floor for a final time, Ariel Slifka scored eight points in the fourth to finish with a game-high of 12. In a display of balanced production, sister Aspen added 11 points, Klein reached double figures with 10, Bunn scored eight and Jamie Borchers ended up with six.

Lindemann, who scored all three of her field goals on 3-pointers, was the only Eagle to reach double figures with 11 points, while Anderson chipped in six.

Now, the Braves turn their attention to the state tournament and a state quarterfinal game that could just as easily be a final in terms of quality. Sutherlin somehow wound up as the seventh seed despite losing just one game this season, to California program Del Norte back on Dec. 11. Since then, the Bulldogs have rarely been pushed, though they did prevail, 56-53, in a five-overtime contest at Elmira on Feb. 12.

Sutherlin has been perhaps Class 4A’s preeminent program over the past five seasons. The Bulldogs finished second in the state in 2012, when their only loss came in the state final. In 2013, their lone loss came in the state semifinals. They have won the past two state titles.

In that time span, the Braves have lost twice to them. In 2012, Sutherlin took a 39-32 decision in the state semifinals. In early 2015, the Bulldogs won 40-27 in Banks.

“They’re a good team. They’re really well-coached,” Begley said. “They have something like almost an 80-game winning streak against Oregon schools, so it’s been a while since they’ve lost against somebody in Oregon. (Head coach Josh Grotting) lost some players from last year, his team, so they’re not quite as deep as they have been in the past years.

“But Josh is a great coach and we know they’re going to come after it defensively, so we gotta be ready to play and come out a little bit stronger than we did tonight in that first quarter.”

In fact, that win streak against Oregon programs is 79 games long, dating to that defeat in the 2013 state semifinals, 66-56 to La Grande.

Thurday’s winner will play either No. 6 Seaside or No. 3 Mazama at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Liberty High School in Hillsboro in the semifinals. The loser will play the loser of that Seaside/Mazama game at 10:45 Friday morning at Liberty.

“We’ve already had such a great season and I just want to play hard every game and do the best and reach our potential as a team, because I still feel like we haven’t done that yet,” Ariel Slifka said. “And so if we can do that and play our best game ever for these next couple games, that would be the icing on the cake, no matter the outcome.”