The Bulldogs have shown marked improvement in the second half of their league schedule this season

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Jocelyn Santillan turns the corner in the first half as the Bulldogs rallied from a 24-0 deficit to post an 11-0 run against the No. 7 Stayton Eagles.Staring down at a 24-0 deficit early in the second quarter against the No. 7 Stayton Eagles, the Woodburn girls had two options — give up or respond in kind.

While the Bulldogs were unable to keep up with a Stayton team that boasted the state's best defense and had won 14 of its last 15 games entering Friday's contest, Woodburn head coach Taylor Belmont rallied the team together and made sure they knew they were capable of competing with this team.

"I am extremely positive with them, because all they know is to be down on themselves and to think that they can't do it," Belmont said. "So I come in with the opposite — which is the truth — that they can do it."

The Bulldogs responded with their first points of the game, a bucket from freshman Briana Cruz. Senior teammate Jocelyn Santillan added three more, splitting a pair of free throws followed by a basket of her own.

After the Eagles missed on a pair of freebies on the other end, sophomore Eliana Arechiga knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to put an exclamation point on an 11-0 run. Stayton ultimately went on to win the game 55-28, but Woodburn owned the quarter and proved what Belmont has been telling them and coaching them all season: this team can play.

"It could have been a really long game after that first quarter, but they just bounced back," Belmont said. "Mental toughness is huge. It's what we're trying to develop, it's the culture we're trying to create, and even though we lost, today was a win in my book because as a team, our mental toughness increased."

Belmont admits it sometimes take a quarter for this year's Bulldog team to get into a rhythm, but once they do, the team has shown that it is continuing to improve by leaps and bounds.

Woodburn dropped a 42-32 game to Cascade late in January and finished the month with a 54-39 victory over the Sweet Home Huskies. It was the second win of the season over Sweet Home, and likely means Woodburn will finish above last place in the league standings for the first time in three years.

"I think the coolest thing that happened at Sweet Home is that we were able to press and we were able to have some success on our press, and it built some confidence in the girls," Belmont said.

It was a marked improvement over the 47-42 win over the Huskies earlier in the season, which was echoed in the team's 41-32 loss at Sisters on Feb. 6. The Bulldogs had lost to Sisters by 17 points on Jan. 11, but the team had grown significantly since then and nearly pulled off a victory if not for some unkind luck at the rim.

"Sisters was a heart breaker," Belmont said. "It's hard as a coach when the kids are doing everything you ask, but they're still not being successful just because the ball is not going in the basket. "Despite the loss, the game was yet more tangible proof that Woodburn is only getting better and will be a team to be reckoned with in the coming seasons.

"This is the hardest working team that I have been a part of," Belmont said. "They're troopers. They don't give up."

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