Bucks upset No. 4 McKenzie, No. 5 Yoncalla on the road to secure third consecutive trip to the 1A state tourney

by: SETH GORDON - Sara Pierson and the Bucks have limited opponents to just 25.9 points since Jan. 28 and have built a record of 9-2 in the process. St. Paul will take their defense to Baker City for a Wednesday quarterfinal game against Dufur.The 2013-2014 season has been a trying one for St. Paul.

After getting beaten up against what head coach Mike Murphy said is probably the toughest early season schedule he’s ever had a team play, the Bucks went 1-3 against fellow Casco League contenders Perrydale and Country Christian to finish an uncharacteristic third in the league.

St. Paul played a strong game against the Pirates in the district semifinals, but surrendered the lead in the final minutes and fell 34-33.

As the Casco League’s No. 3 seed to the state playoffs, the path between St. Paul and the 1A state tournament would be tough, but Murphy was encouraged both by their recent performances and practices.

That form finally translated into wins in big games last week, as the Bucks downed No. 4 McKenzie 40-31 Feb. 25 and bested No. 5 Yoncalla 40-28 Friday to secure their third consecutive and seemingly most unlikely trip to Baker City.

“Maybe the kids, now that they’ve won a couple of those games against good teams, are finally starting to realize what we told them earlier in the year, that they can compete with anyone they play with,” Murphy said. “They just have to believe it. I think they’re starting to get there.”

After a slow start to the first-round playoff game at McKenzie, St. Paul found its rhythm in the second quarter, then clamped down on the Eagles, winning the third quarter 11-3 to go up 28-22.

The Bucks then went 8-for-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, led by a 4-for-5 effort by Remy Brentano, to seal the upset.

Brentano and Sara Pierson led the Buckaroos with 14 and 13 points, respectively, and Murphy credited Carolina Ruvalcaba for playing the best game of her career.

In their second game against a top-five team using the Eagles as a mascot, St. Paul took control of their second-round contest at Yoncalla right from the start, staking an 18-10 half time lead.

Helped by Pierson’s team high 12 points, the Bucks doubled their lead to 16 by outscoring their host 12-4 in the third period and it took a pair of late fourth-quarter three-pointers for Yoncalla to cut into the lead.

“The kids are playing with more confidence,” Murphy said. “They seem to be playing looser.”

St. Paul (18-11) will face off against No. 5 seed Dufur, which it defeated 45-41 Feb. 4, in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re playing as well as we’ve played all year and this is the time you want to be doing that,” Murphy said. “To the kids’ credit, they’ve battled through a lot of tough times and now they’re starting to see some benefits from what they went through early.”

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