The Tigers beat Jesuit to earn a state-tourney trip to the Rose Garden

by: DAN BROOD - ON TO STATE -- Tigard's (from left) Emilee Cincotta, Megan Risinger, Lexi Carter and Julia Santos celebrate following the team's state playoff win over Jesuit.TIGARD — It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t exactly pretty

It was sometimes intense, sometimes excruciating and even exasperating.

But in the end, there were smiles, bigger smiles, tears of joys, plenty of bright red roses and a heck of a celebration.

The Tigard High School girls basketball team got to do the celebrating after it scored a hard-fought 24-17 win over Jesuit in a Class 6A state playoff second round game played Saturday at Tigard High School.

“I’m so happy. I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Tigard junior guard Lexi Carter said after the game. “It’s great to get this win. I smell roses.”

With the victory, its 18th straight, Tigard, the Pacific Conference champion, improved to 23-3 on the season. The Tigers also advance to place in the Class 6A state tournament, which starts today (Thursday) at the Rose Garden. Tigard will face Clackamas today in a state tourney quarterfinal game set to start at 6:30 DAN BROOD - REJECTED -- Tigard freshman Elise Conroy (right) blocks a shot by Jesuit's Alzena Henry in Saturday's state playoff game.

“This is so exciting,” Tigard senior Meeka Mayhew said. “It’s such a great feeling. (Tigard senior) Megan (Risinger) worked hard all four years for this. It’s going to be my first time playing there and I’ll be excited. Megan and Lexi talk about it all the time.”

Risinger, the Pacific Conference Player of the Year, had to wipe away tears from her eyes following Saturday’s victory.

“These are absolutely tears of joy,” she said. “I’m real emotional right now. I’m so glad my senior season didn’t end tonight. Our first goal this season was to win the league championship, and we did that. Then we worked real hard to get to the Rose Garden, and now we’ve done that. This has been such a special senior year.

“It would have been terrible if we lost tonight to Jesuit.”

Well, that didn’t happen. But getting the win over the Crusaders wasn’t painless, either.

Tigard junior guard Emilee Cincotta sank a three-pointer from the right corner to start the contest. A free throw by Carter and a follow-up basket by senior post Julia Santos helped the Tigers take a 6-1 lead with 3 minutes and 25 seconds left in the first quarter.

But Tigard went cold from there, missing its final four shots of the period.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders got a follow-up basket from sophomore post Tarea Green, as well as back-to-back buckets on jumpers by freshman Kate Andersen and Green to finish the quarter with a 7-6 lead.

Tigard’s shooting woes continued in the second quarter. In fact, it got worse, as the Tigers missed their first 12 shots from the field to start the period.

Thankfully for Tigard, its defense, with 6-foot-1 freshman post Elise Conroy putting the pressure on at the high post and blocking shots underneath, stayed strong.

Jesuit was only slowly able to add onto its lead. The Crusaders upped the margin to 11-6 on a jumper by Andersen coming with 3:02 left in the period.

Tigard answered with a free throw by Carter, who then added a last-second foul-line jumper to cut the Jesuit lead to 11-9 at halftime.

The Tigers then got off to a strong start to the third quarter. Cincotta sank a three-pointer from the top of the circle to start the period, giving the Tigers a 12-11 lead.

“That was huge for us,” Tigard coach Steve Naylor said. “It got us going.”by: DAN BROOD - ROSEY SMILES -- Tigard's (from left), Stephanie King, Faithe Wantland, Courtney Roshak, Lexi Carter and Elise Conroy celebrate following the Tigers' state playoff victory over Jesuit on Saturday. Tigard will face Clackamas at the Class 6A state tourney today.

Then, following a free throw by Green, Tigard went on a 6-0 run, which included a steal and layup by Cincotta and back-to-back baskets by Carter, to open up an 18-12 lead.

The Tigers got baskets from Mayhew and Carter in the final minutes of the period, helping Tigard take a 22-16 lead into the fourth quarter. That’s when things really got tense.

Tigard was seemingly unable to penetrate Jesuit’s zone defense, leaving the Tigers passing the ball around the perimeter. And that’s what Tigard did for most of the quarter.

“We weren’t trying to stall,” Naylor said. “But they had a size advantage everywhere on the court. So, for us, it was a layin or nothing. We were trying to neutralize what they had an advantage in.”

The Tigers weren’t able to make a shot from the field in the entire quarter, but, thanks to some clutch offensive rebounds by Conroy and Santos, and some Jesuit turnovers, they kept possession for a large majority of the period.

In fact, Jesuit’s first shot from the field in the quarter was a three-point attempt by senior Sophie LeRoux coming with 1:18 left in the game.

Tigard scored the first point of the final stanza when Risinger went 1-for-2 from the foul line with 28.1 seconds left in the game. LeRoux scored Jesuit’s only point of the period with a free throw coming with 9.1 seconds to play. Tigard got a free throw by Mayhew after that to make the final score 24-17.

“It was a battle. It was hard-fought,” Cincotta said. “At the end, we buckled down, played tough defense and ran our plays.”

“It was very intense, with their pressure,” Mayhew said. “But we practice against that all the time.”

“It was a battle,” Carter said. “But a win is a win, and we’ll take it.”

“Lexi played a great game. She’s so smart out there,” Naylor said. “And Elise did great on defense. That was so big for us. She put so much pressure on their high post.”

Conroy, and the rest of the Tigers, started their victory celebration soon after the final horn sounded.

“I’m so excited,” Conroy said with a smile. “I’m a freshman, and I’m going to the Rose Garden. This is just so amazing. I don’t know what to say. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team.”

Carter led all scorers in the contest with 10 points. She also had a pair of steals.

Cincotta scored eight points to go with four rebounds and two steals. Risinger had three rebounds and two steals.

Tigard, as a team, made nine of 36 shots from the field and four of 16 free throw attempts. The Tigers made up for those numbers on the defensive end of the court, as they helped force the Crusaders into 19 turnovers and a 7-for-26 shooting night from the field.

Andersen and Green each had eight points to lead Jesuit.

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