St. Helens has lost two in a row with just three games left, but the younger group of players has an intreaguing message: they want a league championship inside two years
Upon leaving the locker room after falling 63-33 on the road to Milwaukie, St. Helens head coach Billy McKinney was visibly frustrated. Not that he is usually chipper after a loss, but something was a little different.
I don't know, said McKinney, who can usually pick out positives and point out weak points that contributed to the loss. We just didn't bring it tonight.
The game was a change from the usual way of things, where the Lions step up and play better on the road. Both teams were scoreless for the first few minutes, and though St. Helens played well in spurts, Milwaukie was able to pull away early and never looked back, outscoring the Lions in every quarter.
Sometimes we show up to play, and sometimes we don't, said McKinney. I think they might have been a little overconfident because last time we lost by seven at our place, and they were thinking 'Oh, we only lost by seven, we'll get 'em tonight.'
Early on, it looked like St. Helens might actually keep up. Senior guard Rianne Tupper hit a pair of threes in the first few minutes of the initial period and another in the second, but the Lions had few answers for Milwaukie on defense, especially 6-foot-2 sophomore post Merrily Jones. Sophomore guard Karissa Delaunay would drive toward the basket, wait until the double team shifted over to stop her progress, and dump the ball off for easy layups to the post players underneath.
Jones didn't do all her damage from the post, however. She also hit all of her free throws and nailed a pair of three-pointers on her way to a game-high 22 points.
Tupper, by comparison, finished with 11 points, but didn't hit a field goal in the second half. She and fellow senior Nicole Harcourt, like McKinney, were also visibly frustrated with the result, which is their second in a row after finally knocking off Parkrose on Feb. 12.
It's also on the heels of a disheartening loss to Wilsonville, a game in which the Lions gave up a three-point lead heading to the fourth quarter and fell 48-45. The Wildcats took the lead in the opening seconds of the final period, and went on a 10-0 run to gain a 41-34 advantage. Harcourt, who led all scores with a season-high 20 points, scored the final five for the Lions, but her late three pointer was just that: too late, and St. Helens fell.
For the younger players, the last few games of the season bears an exciting opportunity to fight for playing time and improve their stock heading into the offseason. Several of the younger members of the team, especially sophomore Emily Nollette and freshmen Kileigh Capelle and Maggie Cochran, have seen extensive minutes over the last few weeks with mixed results. In spite of missed shots and mistakes here and here, the picture is clear: there's a special drive and hunger in the up-and-coming class.
And it's more than simply a desire to put up shots and win a few games. They have big dreams.
Nollette, who is often one of the first subs to step on the floor and has grown as a leader and a player over the course of the season, had an interesting message for McKinney after the loss to Milwaukie.
We'll do it next year, she told him. And in two years, we'll contend for a league championship. We'll dedicate ourselves to that.
It's a bold statement, given the history of the program in St. Helens, but the drive and determination are obviously bubbling from the ground up, according to McKinney, who said he plans on sticking around to coach the young, hungry group he's been able to impact since they were in the eighth grade.
They have a desire to be big, he said. That's what they're showing me.
For the remainder of this season, though, he said he has a commitment to the older players who have put in the time and effort, though developing young talent is still an important part of the job.
It's important to play [the younger kids], but I don't give up on my upperclassmen, said McKinney. That's why I started them tonight because I wanted them to know I'm with them all the way.
Milwaukie 63, St. Helens 33
STHE 8 8 4 7 – 33
MILW 14 20 16 13 – 63
St. Helens (33): Tupper 11, Harcourt 2, Capelle 2, Kyle-Milward 4, Reardon 5, Lalangan, Roth 2, Nollette 2, Hembree, Curtiss, Cochran, Perry 5
Milwaukie (63): Delaunay 11, Brooks 2, Stanfield, Grogan, Rivers 6, Mulford 15, Bordeaux 2, Jone 22, Hampton 6, Rodriguez
Wilsonville 48, St. Helens 45
WILS 11 11 9 17 – 48
STHE 14 11 9 11 – 45
St. Helens (45): Tupper 7, Harcourt 20, Capelle 2, Kyle-Milward 3, Reardon 6, Roth, Nollette 4, Hembree, Cochran 2