The Falcons eke out a 34-32 victory in a defensive slugfest

by: JON HOUSE - La Salle seniors Andrea Novak (15) and Sterling Swift (2) team up to double-team Molly Webster in last weeks barnburner with Gladstone.It didn’t come easy, but La Salle Prep coeds defeated cross-town rival Gladstone for the second time this season, 34-32, in a key Tri-Valley Conference girls basketball game at La Salle on Feb. 12.

The game was a defensive slugfest and it was the lowest scoring game of the season for the number-two-in-the-state-ranked Falcons, who entered the contest averaging 69 points an outing.

The win, combined with a 72-28 blowout of North Marion on Friday, put the Falcons at 7-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference (18-1 overall), and it all but assured them of the 2014 TVC title.

Gladstone (14-7, 5-2) and Madras (14-7, 5-2), through play Friday, were tied for second place in the TVC with but three conference games remaining.

Through an aggressive half-court defense, the Gladiators had the Falcons on the ropes for much of the Feb. 12 game. La Salle was only 5-of-20 from the field in the first half and the Falcons turned the ball over no fewer than 12 times in the first two periods. The result was an 18-13 Gladiator lead at halftime.

The Gladiators had a shooting slump of their own in the third period, when they went one-of-15 from the field. But they continued to hold the Falcons at bay, making La Salle scoring opportunities tough to come by.

The turning point came late in the third quarter. The Falcons hit the Gladiators with an aggressive full-court press nearly the entire game, but it wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the press began to pay dividends — with turnovers leading to fast-break lay-ups.

Andrea Novak and Ally Jensen scored key buckets in the turnaround.

Novak scored on a put-back with 1:00 remaining in the third period to gain the Falcons their first lead of the game, at 24-23.

Jensen got a steal on the press and promptly scored to up the lead to 26-23.

And with 40 seconds remaining in the third stanza, Novak followed up a Gladiator miss on the fast break with a fast-break bucket of her own, making it La Salle 28, Gladstone 23, and putting the Falcons in the driver’s seat.

Another steal and fast-break bucket by Jensen early in the fourth quarter made it 30-23 La Salle.

The Falcons then slowed the pace of play in a half-court game the rest of the way, and did enough to hang on for the victory.

Novak scored a lay-up off a pass from Morgan McSmith with 6:12 to play to make it a 32-25 game; and Sterling Swift took the ball to the basket for a lay-up with 3:44 to play for a 34-30 Falcon lead and what would prove the winning bucket.

Trialing 34-32, Gladstone had the ball the final 34 seconds of the game, with a chance to tie or win. But Melisa Campos’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell off the mark, and the Falcons celebrated the hard fought victory over their longtime rivals.

“This means a lot,” said Novak. “With this being my senior year and Gladstone being our rivals, especially coming in the second half of league.”

“Since La Salle’s moving up to 5A and this will be the last time we play Gladstone, it’s a really big deal,” said Swift. “It was difficult, but we pulled it out....

“I think the key was energy. In the first half we were kind of sluggish. In the second half we played with more energy, led by our defense. We came together at halftime and said, ‘We’ve got to do this for the league title. And, since it’s our last time playing Gladstone, we’ve got to give it our all. We have to give 110 percent.”

Novak (12 points), Swift (6 points), Jensen (6 points) and Morgan McSmith (3 assists) led a balanced Falcon offense.

Novak was especially tough in the second half, when she scored 10 of her 12 points and snagged some key rebounds. The 5-10 senior claimed a team-high nine rebounds on the night and she was a hot-handed 6-of-9 from the field; Katie Buerk snagged eight rebounds, four of them at the offensive end of the floor.

La Salle earned a 27-22 edge in rebounding on the night.

Gladstone was led by Molly Webster (10 points), Fiona Burrell (8 points) and Mikaela Simac (7 points). Webster, who was double- and triple-teamed most of the game, also had three steals and seven rebounds.

Burrell was an intimidating force on defense, with four blocked shots and a team-high eight rebounds.

La Salle had 19 turnovers in the game; Gladstone had 18.

The Falcons made 15-of-41 shots (.365) from the floor, with two 3-pointers; the Gladiators made 13-of-39 shots (.333), with two 3-pointers.

Novak said she was very pleased with the Falcons’ success this season, in winning 17 of their first 18 games and gaining a second-in-the-state OSAA RPI ranking.

“We’ve had a lot expected of us,” she said. “We’ve had a target on our backs, since we’ve only lost one game.”

“La Salle [girls basketball] won its last state championship 30 years ago,” said Swift. “That’s our goal this year, taking it all the way. We’ve got seven seniors on the team and we’re going to give it everything we have, because it’s our last chance.”

Swift was on La Salle’s varsity team as a freshman when the Falcons lost to Cascade in the state final.

“That’s not going to happen again,” Swift said. “I’m going to tell my teammates how bad that felt, sitting on the bench with my sisters crying, after we lost to Cascade on a last-second shot. We don’t want to feel that kind of pain. We’ve got to come out and play with high energy in every single game we play, no matter who we are playing.”

Comparing the 2011 La Salle team that made the state final with this year’s team, Swift said: “We’re a lot more rounded. Different people step up for us in every game and help us succeed.”

La Salle was to host Madras on Tuesday (Feb. 18). The Falcons close out the regular season, hosting Estacada on Friday and playing Molalla on the road next Tuesday (Feb. 25).

La Salle’s boys basketball team rebounded on Friday, defeating North Marion 62-52, after dropping a 45-43 heartbreaker to Gladstone earlier in the week.

The Falcons showed up ready to play and took charge of the game from the opening tip-off.

They led 25-6 after just one quarter of play, and coasted home from there.

“We had a blazing start, after not scoring in first 1:55,” said La Salle boys coach Jared Curtiss. “We went on a 25-4 run. [Matt] D’Amore sparked us with two triples, and Valois [Gashongore] got us three steals and five quick points in setting the tone.

“Our lead surged to 20 in the second period, with balanced scoring from the outside from [Michael] Edwards, D’Amore and [Reece] Wible, who hit six 3’s combined in first half.”

Keeston Smith (14 points) and Reece Wible (11 points) led 10 La Salle players who scored.

Edwards had a team-high four assists on the night; Smith had a team-leading eight rebounds, and he blocked three shots.

Gashongore came up with five steals.

“We kept a La Salle tradition strong,” said Curtiss. “In our four years at La Salle, our teams have never lost two straight games. NEVER. I think anyone can play a poor game like we did at Gladstone and lose a close game. For us, losing two games is a pride thing. The players were glad to keep that tradition going. Now, its time to go on another eight-game winning streak, and it started tonight.”

La Salle boys (16-3, 6-1), who are tied with Gladstone (16-3, 6-1), in first place in the Tri-Valley Conference, play Estacada (4-16, 0-7) on the road this Friday. They finish up the regular season next Tuesday, when the entertain Molalla (5-16, 3-4).

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