GIRLS BASKETBALL: Southridge begins its title defense by ripping Gresham 66-28 Tuesday
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, SKY-HIGH — Southridge’s Brittany Santucci outreaches a Kelsey Martin of Gresham for a rebound during the Skyhawks’ Tuesday home victory.

BEAVERTON - Though two-time defending state champion Southridge has shown some kinks in their armor this season, few (if any) were on display in Tuesday night's Class 6A first round playoff victory over Gresham.

The No. 4-ranked Skyhawks lost eight seniors, including four Division I players, from last year's title team and their hold on the Metro League crown, but looked the part of a champion with a 66-28 victory over the Gophers at Southridge High School.

'This year we had people doubt us,' Southridge point guard Alex Earl said. 'We definitely have something to prove. Until someone knocks off us, we're still the state champs. We're still as strong as ever. We're taking no teams lightly.'

Gresham, the Mount Hood Conference's No. 3 seed, was the first to find this out.

The runners-up in the Metro, Southridge (20-4) dominated inside from the onset with 6-foot-3 post Michelle Jenkins getting 14 of her game-high 18 points in the first half, which the Skyhawks controlled throughout to take a 36-10 halftime lead.

'Rebounding is a huge key for us,' Earl said. 'Michelle is a force inside, Kiara (Tate) can out-jump anybody, and Danielle (Wells) just works hard.'

Additionally, Southridge's press defense often kept the Gophers from crossing midcourt, forcing more turnovers (15) then Gresham had field goal attempts (14) in the first half.

'We feel like we're ready to go,' Southridge coach Michael Meek said. 'We're healthy now and starting to play our best basketball at this point. I feel like we're putting some things together and playing team defense.'

And Gresham paid the price. The Skyhawks held the Gophers scoreless for the game's first 4 minutes, 30 seconds in building an early 10-0 lead behind eight points from Jenkins. Using its height advantage and athleticism, Southridge controlled the boards throughout starting with the opening possession when Jenkins finished a putback after three straight offensive rebounds.

'We're athletic at 5-6 and 5-7. They're athletic at 6-2, 6-3,' Gresham coach Brian Hills said. 'And they're quicker than anyone we've seen. I have a hard time believing anyone can handle their pressure very well.'

The Gophers had their hands full Tuesday, often failing to bring the ball across midcourt then finding themselves unable to get a shot off once they did. Gresham didn't score until Lauren Hagger's three-pointer in the left corner - the Gophers' second shot of the game.

Southridge closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run for an 18-3 lead, culminating with steals by junior Kiara Tate, who had 11 points, and senior Falissa Smith leading to easy layins for each. The Gophers opened the second quarter with a free throw, but the Skyhawks' defense spurred a 10-0 run for a 28-6 lead after Earl's steal led to a layin by Jenkins with 5:15 left in the first half.

'Right now our defense is picking up and our press is doing better,' Earl said. 'We're going to run and not turn the ball over. If we take care of the ball and play defense, it's going to be hard to beat us.'

Gresham went nearly nine minutes without a field goal before getting a pull-up jumper from Andrea Beekman with 3:50 left in the second quarter. But Southridge only pulled away from there, taking a 36-10 lead into halftime then opening the second half on a 6-0 lead to move ahead by more than 30 points.

'They're definitely a lot better than I thought they were,' said junior Amiee Frutchey, who led Gresham with 13 points. 'They're just tough. We got stuck and had stage fright in a sense.'

The Gophers, who finished the season at 15-8, recovered but not before it was much too late. Smith scored on a putback then hit a short jumper for a 51-14 lead. Wells, who had 10 points, added a drive and a layin in the third quarter before most of the Skyhawk starters spent the fourth quarter on the bench.

'It was a good win for us overall,' Meek said. 'Our last few games we're starting to make easy plays and stay within ourselves.'

Southridge looks to continue to build momentum when the Skyhawks host West Linn for Friday's 7 p.m. second round game. The Lions, the No. 3 seed out of the Three Rivers League, beat Tigard 39-38 Tuesday. The winner of Friday's game moves on to the state tournament for Wednesday's quarterfinals at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.

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