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Braves unravel, lose state title game to Sutherlin

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Banks loses an 18-point lead over the final 10 minutes to fall in championship game

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Banks' Anna Klein prepares to go up for a shot during the Braves game versus Sutherlin.This one's going to hurt.

For two-and-a-half quarters the Banks girls basketball team was executing like a state champion, but for the final quarter-and-a-half, three-time defending state champ Sutherlin High put the Braves in their place — and it was hard to watch.

Things mercilessly unraveled for Banks over the final 10 minutes of the state final game at Forest Grove High School Saturday, March 11. It was a combination of both as a 34-16 Banks lead turned into a heartbreaking 49-43 defeat for a Braves squad that deserved better.

In the process, Sutherlin earned its fourth straight 4A title.

"It was kind of a repeat of last year," said Banks head coach Brandon Begley. "We came out, built a lead, then just unraveled."

Banks' sophomore Aspen Slifka was phenomenal in the first 20 minutes, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds, but for as good as she was in the first 20, Sutherlin's Taylor Stricklin was better over the final 12. The senior made six of her seven shots from behind the arc, three of which came in the fourth quarter as she finished with 24 points while grabbing eight rebounds.

"What can you say?" said Sutherlin head coach Josh Grotting. "She just turned it on."

The opening quarter was a free-flowing game with both teams making shots — Banks for the most part in the paint, Sutherlin strictly from behind the three-point line. The Braves took a five-point lead to the second quarter, got it to nine when Slifka scored late, then saw it dwindle to six when Stricklin hit a three at the end of the half.

It was a second quarter dominated by a swarming Banks defense which left Sutherlin, who simply couldn't get the ball inside, with nothing other than wild attempts from behind the arc.

The Bulldogs got all but one of their first half points from three-pointers, playing right into Banks' hands.

"Honestly at halftime we felt fortunate to only be down six," said Grotting. "Banks' defense is better than advertised, and we've known that. Brandon does a better job than anyone when it comes to defense. We were standing around, not getting the ball to the middle. It was bad."

And it didn't get much better in the early part of the third quarter, as Banks' six-point lead quickly became eight, then 11 when Slifka completed a three-point play to make the score 27-16.

After a handful of free throws by the Braves' Anna Klein and Destiny Maller made it 32-16, Slifka made it 34-16 with a couple free throws of her own — and things appeared headed to a good place for the Brave faithful dancing in the aisles.

And then things changed.

Sutherlin's Harlee Baker hit a three to cut the lead to 34-19 and the Braves committed a quick turnover. On the next possession, freshman Kiersten Haines scored to cut the lead to 13, then Stricklin hit back-to-back threes to cut it further to seven. When Baker hit a three of her own as time was expiring in the third quarter, Banks' earlier 18-point lead was down to four and all the momentum was firmly in the Bulldogs' corner.

"They were just beating us," Grotting said. "We tried to make some adjustments … and it didn't work. But we hit a three to get it to 15 and I looked at my assistant and said, well maybe if we can get it to 10, you never know. Next thing I know we get a couple turnovers and hit a couple threes and it's four."

Begley saw the slide too, and tried to combat it by reiterating to his girls how often they'd overcome adversity throughout the year. But for whatever reason, there was no answer on this night.

"As the lead got smaller and smaller, we just tightened up," the dejected coach said. "We talked about everything we've been through this year and how by coming together we can get past this. We just have to believe. But unlike the rest of the year, we weren't able to overcome it."

Sutherlin almost immediately cut the lead to two to start the fourth quarter, but the Braves, to their credit, dug deep and found a bit of fight themselves. Karlie Gerlinger hit a free throw to make it 35-32, then three consecutive free throws by Slifka and senior Anna Klein were followed by a Gerlinger basket to give Banks a little breathing room again, 40-34. But the Bulldogs hit four free throws to Banks' one over the next couple of minutes, and Stricklin hit a three to tie the game 41-41.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Banks' Karlie Gerlinger takes a shot during the state championship game March 11.Banks got their last points of the night on the next possession, when Gerlinger calmly knocked down a pair of free throws to again give Banks the lead. But Sutherlin's Eliza Sorenson matched her with a lay-in at the other end, then Stricklin — after Banks failed to score — got a basket in the paint to give the Bulldogs their first lead since early in the first quarter.

Anna Klein had an opportunity to pull the Braves even on the ensuing possession, but wasn't able to get her free throws to go down. After that, Sutherlin's Porter iced the game with a series of free throws in the final seconds.

"We made that run late, but just couldn't hold it together," said Begley. "I told the girls to be proud of what they've done. They're the first team to make a state final and they changed the culture of the program."

Begley felt for his team, which took the defeat hard, but felt especially bad for the senior Klein, who's been such a vital piece to this team and program during her time at Banks.

"Anna and the rest of our seniors impacted this whole program," he said. "And their accomplishments will continue to impact it going forward."

When asked to explain what happened in those last 10 minutes, Grotting had few words.

"It was that last two minutes of the third quarter. It just changed things," he said. "It's hard to explain — weird things sometimes just happen."

The coach felt for Banks, though.

"I've been on that end of it," he continued. "It's tough."

Slifka led Banks with 17 points and eight boards, while Klein added 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Gerlinger chipped-in 10 points.

Aside from Stricklin, Sutherlin's Baker scored 11 points while Sorenson had six assists.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Sydney Gregg goes up for a shot in the first half of Saturday's state title game at Forest Grove High School.