The message Southridge conveyed to every other state tournament contender in attendance was sent loud and clear.
The Skyhawks are here to take no prisoners. Their mission is a Class 6A state championship.
And to those on hand to witness the carnage of their quarterfinal matchup with St. Mary's, watch out. You might get steamrolled en route to another Southridge state title.
Southridge looked every bit the No. 1 team they've been made out to be all year-long, blowing out the Blues 82-42 behind a dazzling offensive display in the 6A quarterfinals on March 9 to advance to the 6A semis against No. 4 Grant on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Southridge shot 60 percent from the field and made 10-15 three-pointers including five combined from senior Kaelin Immel and junior Maggie Freeman in the first quarter alone.
"Everyone was ready for this moment," Immel. "We were all nervous, but once you step out on the court and see all the people supporting you in the crowd, that's what's gets me going — being on the big stage and knowing that you have to make those shots to win the game. Those shots we made gave us the momentum to keep going and put it on them."
The Skyhawks stormed out to a 13-0 first period lead and kept pounding away. The left-handed Freeman scored 14 first quarter points on just six shots and peppered the right wing with a trio of treys that splashed through the cotton with ease. Before the game was even two minutes old, Immel made consecutive threes early in the first as Southridge stunned St. Mary's with its outside shooting aptitude.
"Once you get 'on', it's hard to get off," Freeman said. "I don't think (St. Mary's) was expecting that from us. We played really well as a team and it was just a fun all-around game."
Later in the first ,Freeman finished an and-one three point play on a backdoor pass from Immel. Then, Immel drove past St. Mary's star Bendu Yeaney for two as Southridge seized a 31-11 lead at the end of first quarter.
The whitewashing was to be expected as the Blues came in as the No. 25 seed after beating two opponents on the road to reach the state tourney. But it wasn't so much the score differential that stood out as it was the manner in which Southridge decimated St. Mary's. The Skyhawks came in knowing the Blues would try to curb their athleticism and size advantage with a 2-3 zone defense in hopes of wheedling Southridge into shooting from the outside. The plan worked, except Freeman and Immel singed the scheme to rubble by burying three after three during that first quarter flurry.
"There's just so much excitement that goes with that," Immel said. "You clap for your teammates and get each other going. If one person is hot, the whole team is gonna come along with you. That's what makes our team so fun to be a part of because there's so many different people that can get our team going."
The hot shooting made St. Mary's come out of its zone look, which opened the floor for Cameron Brink and Natalie Hoff to operate. Brink took Yeaney out on the perimeter, dropped a sick right to left crossover to pierce the purple paint and made an incredible jump pass on a froze rope to Sofia Riverman in the left corner for three. Then the ballyhooed freshman played volleyball with two of her own misses and finished to go up 38-11.
Freshman point guard McKelle Meek blew by the Blues' halfcourt defense, faked a pass to Hoff and continued on her way to the uncontested highlight reel hoop to go up 40-11. And the floor general dove on the hardwood for a loose ball to save possession while ahead by 29 points. It's those kind of winning habits, created when the moment isn't as weighty, that carry from round to round. Brink battled foul trouble throughout, but her physicality and toughness took a toll on the yoked up Yeaney who found herself looking at Chiles Center's ceiling a handful of times thanks to Southridge's tough team defense. Yeaney scored a game-high 20 points, but 16 of those came after halftime when the game was well out of reach. The Skyhawks led by as much as 43 points in the second half.
As confident and composed as Southridge played, it's easy forget Hoff is the only member of the team who's played in the state tournament environment before. From Freeman to Immel to Brink, the Skyhawks entered foreign territory when they stepped into the state arena. Yet, Southridge's untouchable team chemistry traveled with them from Beaverton to North Portland and the jitters evaporated quickly as Freeman and Immel made it rain from deep.
"When you're close as a team, you can be comfortable anywhere," Immel said. "We're so comfortable with each other and we believe in each other and have people in the stands who believe in us. It was easier for us to come out and play well."
The Skyhawks' point total was their second-highest output of the season, topped only by an 88-point outing against defending state champion South Salem. Immel scored 17 points and also had six steals and four assists. Freeman scored 17 while Brink had 14 and Hoff tacked on 12.