PREPS: Generals' victory sets up showdown with Southridge
Having reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in more than three decades, the Grant High girls basketball team was determined not to short-change itself on Thursday.
Once the Generals settled their nerves, they rattled the South Medford Panthers and secured a 56-45 win at Chiles Center.
That gave Grant a berth in Friday's Oregon School Activities Association 6:30 p.m. semifinal game against Southridge. It'll be fourth-seeded Grant (25-2) against the top-seeded Skyhawks (25-2).
"My mind-set was can't go anywhere without winning this game," Grant sophomore Daryn Hickok said. "We can't get to the championship, which is our end goal. We can't play Southridge. We couldn't do any of that unless we won. So I was thinking we have to win. We have to play as hard as we can and leave it all out there."
Hickok did her part. She scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, attacking the basket for key scores that answered each push from the Panthers.
Grant's Nina Radford had 13 points, Khiarica Rasheed had seven points and a team-high 10 rebounds, and Paige Ball-Strickland provided a lift off the bench.
A 12-point burst late in the second quarter proved to be key for the Generals. The run earned Grant a 10-point halftime lead and was highlighted by a quick eight points as Radford hit a 3-pointer, Ball-Strickland hit a 3 in transition and Rasheed scored inside.
"It's always nice to hit a (3-point) shot. That always gets the team going," Radford said.
A defensive switch helped, too, as the Generals became more aggressive and trapped the Panthers in the half-court.
"We needed to find a way to put some pressure on the ball and kind of threw a little trap out of our half-court (defense), and it seemed to throw them off just enough for us to attack out of it," Grant coach Kendra Gardner said.
Grant scored the first six points of the third quarter to lead by 16. Hickok scored nine consecutive Grant points in one third-quarter stretch to help the Generals maintain a double-digit advantage.
South Medford took advantage of Grant fouls to creep within seven in the fourth quarter, as Grant sophomore wing Marin Leonard played only 15 minutes before fouling out and Radford finished with four fouls.
But when it looked like the Panthers might make the Generals sweat, Hickok made sure they didn't. A driving basket with 5:15 remaining and her scoop off the drive with 2:40 on the clock each put Grant up nine points.
Hickok said she enjoyed the opportunity to attack the basket. Many PIL opponents played off the 5-10 wing, trying to get her to shoot from outside.
"This team didn't give me space to shoot, so I just attacked the bucket because they overplayed me," Hickok said.
"(Hickok) is crazy athletic and quick, so it's hard for anyone to guard her," Radford said. "She came up big."
So did Ball-Strickland. In addition to hitting a pair of 3's, the junior had two of Grant's seven steals as her quickness on defense bothered the Panthers.
"Paige played amazing," Hickok said. "In my opinion, she is our best defensive player because she can stay in front (of a dribbler) and her hands are very, very active."
Having survived the first-day jitters on the state tournament stage, the Generals now get their shot at No. 1 Southridge.
The Skyhawks, Gardner said, "don't compare to anybody we've seen on our schedule. They're so balanced. It's a tall challenge to contend with. We'll do our best."
Hickok is excited for the opportunity.
"I'm not scared of anyone," she said, "and neither are my teammates."