Buffs were in the game until bitter end

by: Billy Gates/The Pioneer - Madras’ Mariah Stacona drives past a Bend defender during the Buffs’ 48-44 loss to the Lava Bears on Dec. 18 at Madras High School. Stacona scored 31 points against the Lava Bears.

The Madras White Buffalo girls basketballl team hung with Class 5A Bend until the bitter end in a 48-44 loss Tuesday night at Madras High School.
   The Buffs trailed by three at the end of the third period, 38-35, and despite being outrageously outsized by the Lava Bears, they were able to keep in contact with them, in large part due to sophomore guard Mariah Stacona.
   Stacona notched 31 points and hit some big buckets for the Buffs down the stretch. After it looked like the Lava Bears had completely put the Buffs away, Stacona scored seven points in 15 seconds to, at the very least, give the Buffs a chance at tying the game.
   With 30.7 seconds left, she drove hard into the paint and converted a layup, was fouled, then hit the free throw to bring the Buffs within seven, 48-41.
   With 15.2 seconds left, a long rebound was corraled by Madras after some great hustle, then Stacona buried a trey to cut the deficit to 48-44, but that was as close as the Buffs came to the Lava Bears the rest of the way.
   "We put some pressure on Bend and got them out of their rhythm a bit," Madras head coach Mike Osborne said. "We had some moments where we grew up."
   Osborne's roster is loaded with talented - but young - players, which he said contributes to the team's inconsistency early in the season, but against the Lava Bears the team showed flashes of what they can become. It is, as Osborne said, a work in progress.
   "I've never had a team this young," he said, "and I've never put this much pressure on young players to perform at this level."
   Osborne is already tired of using his team's youth as an excuse, though. While he acknowledged getting his team to come together will take some time, he still wants to win - now.
   "We want to be able to build something and have some success," he said. "We talk about this all the time in practices."
   Osborne likened his team's progress to climbing a set of stairs, and admitted that sometimes he wishes his team were closer to the top.
   "We're probably on about step one or two right now," he said, "but there are times I wish we were on step eight or nine."
   While the team makes the climb, Osborne's crop of young players will have to fill in roles, and he sees Vanessa Esquivel as one of the team's knock-down shooters to go along with her aggressive mentality.
   "She's got a nice jump shot, and we've got to be able to get her more looks," he said. "She's still trying to get used to playing at this level and figuring out when to take certain shots, and get more quality looks."
   With 2:21 left in the third period, one of the quality looks presented itself, and Esquivel knocked it down like a veteran. Her deep 3-pointer cut Bend's lead down to five, 36-31.
   The loss dropped the Buffs to 1-5 and extended the team's losing streak to five games.
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