West Linn girls beat Oregon City 43-39 to win state tournament berth
There's nothing easy about getting to the Class 6A girls state basketball tournament.
And nobody knows that better than West Linn.
The Lions know it because they'd lost in the second round of the state playoffs — the final round before the tournament — in each of the past three years.
West Linn learned even more on Friday about the challenges of reaching the tournament because the Lions had got pushed to the limit by Oregon City in their second-round contest at West Linn High School.
In the end, though, that's part of what made West Linn's 43-39 victory so satisfying.
"All three years of my high school career, we were here. Now it's my senior year and we made it and it feels so good … to be able to go," said West Linn senior guard Kennedi Byram, who finished with a game-high 16 points on 4 of 9 shooting from the field (with one 3-pointer) and a 7 of 8 day at the foul line, along with four assists and three steals.
"Three years. It took us three years to get here, but I told myself my senior year that I wasn't going to let (us lose again)," said senior guard Lexie Pritchard, who added 11 points on 3 of 9 shooting from the field (including one 3-pointer) and a 4 of 6 day at the free throw line, along with five rebounds.
"It's been so long," added senior guard Brooke Landis, who added two points in the win. "We've had this second-round streak and now we broke it and it's great."
With the win — Three Rivers League runner-up West Linn's seventh straight — the fourth-ranked Lions improved to 23-3 overall and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state tournament. The Lions will face fifth-ranked North Medford (18-8 overall) — the Southwest Conference champion — at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
No. 13 Oregon City, meanwhile, ended its season at 17-9 after winning the Mt. Hood Conference championship. While obviously disappointed with their Friday loss, the Pioneers chose instead to focus on the friendships they'd made over the course of the season.
"I'm going to remember the girls I played with, the seniors that are leaving," said junior wing Brooke Bullock, who finished with eight points on 4 of 11 shooting from the field, along with seven rebounds. "I'll never forget the memories and friends I made. It's about the basketball part, but it's more about the relationships you make with the girls, the friendships you make."
"I'm leaving with a lot of memories and a lot of my best friends," added senior guard Allie Edwards, who finished with seven points on 2 of 5 shooting from the field (with two 3-pointers) and 1 of 2 free throws, along with six assists. "I've played with some of them since I was in the fourth grade and tonight, I think we just played as a team."
The Pioneers came out strong on Friday, racing to an 8-0 lead in the game's first 1 minute, 44 seconds, including 3-pointers by both senior Kaari Guelsdorf and Edwards. But West Linn came back with a 12-6 run over the final 6:06 of the period to close within 14-12, getting four points each from Pritchard and freshman post Aaronette Vonleh.
The Pioneers pushed their lead to 19-12 early in the second quarter on a drive by senior wing Kylie Guelsdorf and another "three" from Edwards. Again, though, the Lions responded late, closing the half with a 10-3 stretch over the final 4:48, with Byram knocking down a 3-pointer and converting a three-point play, and Pritchard hitting one free throw and adding a "three" of her own to tie the contest 22-22 at the half.
The third quarter was a defensive slugfest that saw the Lions post a 9-7 scoring edge to lead 31-29, their efforts paced by four Vonleh points and three more from Byram, while Kylie Guelsdorf had four and Kaari Guelsdorf three for Oregon City.
There was more back and forth in the final period, too, with the Pioneers closing within 35-33 when sophomore Rory Schedler took an Edwards pass and scored in the key with 3:31 left in the game, and 41-39 when Kylie Guelsdorf sank a "three" with just four seconds left on the clock.
But then, when West Linn freshman Makayla Long tried to inbound the ball to Pritchard near the free throw line, Oregon City tipped the ball away only to see Byram recover it near the sideline and get fouled. She then sank two free throws with two seconds left in the contest to ice the win.
Vonleh scored four points in the fourth quarter, while both Pritchard and Byram went 3 of 4 from the foul line down the stretch to set the stage for their eventual celebration.
"I am super excited to go to the Chiles Center," Landis said. "I've never been to the Chiles Center before. I think it's going to be a really good experience."
"Honestly, it's just the best feeling ever when we finally got over that hump that we haven't been able to the past few years," Byram said.
"It feels great to make the Chiles Center," Pritchard said. "None of us have gotten this experience before, but it doesn't end here. We've got two more games to go, and hopefully, even three."
On their side, the Pioneers knew just how close they'd come to reaching the state tournament for a third straight year.
"It was just two baskets so it was a coin flip," Bullock said. "We both know we're probably top-eight teams and we could have made it there."
"Obviously, we went on some runs and they went on some runs, but at the end of the day, they had two more baskets at the end of the game," Edwards said.
Vonleh added 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win, while Long had two points and eight rebounds. For Oregon City, Kylie Guelsdorf went 3 of 9 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line, along with seven rebounds and three assists, while Kaari Guelsdorf went 3 for 12 (including three 3-pointers) and had six rebounds.