St. Paul falls to No. 1 Kennedy in district final
The No. 6 St. Paul girls basketball team was unable to beat the No. 1 Kennedy Trojans in three attempts this season, but if they were to meet again it would likely mean the Bucks will have advanced to the 2A state championship game March 3.
The rivals met on Friday in Mount Angel for the title game of the Tri-River Conference tournament, with the Buckaroos (21-5, 10-2 Tri-River Conference) falling by a 50-39 margin.
St. Paul had already secured its playoff spot Feb. 14 with a 46-43 home win over No. 7 Central Linn, but was looking to head into the postseason with the added momentum from an upset of 25-1 Kennedy.
With the regular season firmly in the rearview mirror, the Buckaroos have their sights on the first round of the playoffs, where they will host the No. 11 Bonanza Antlers (16-10, 8-6 Mountain View Conference) in an opening-round contest Friday.
St. Paul is making its first foray into postseason at the 2A level after barely missing the cut in each of the past two seasons. The Bucks boast an impressive resume this season, owning the state's second-best defense at the 2A level, giving up just a hair under 28 points a game.
St. Paul has gone 14-2 since Christmas, with both losses coming against the top-ranked Trojans. In fact, of St. Paul's five losses this season, three have come against Kennedy, with the other two coming against No. 2 Monroe (23-3) and No. 8 Lost River (16-10).
The Antlers, meanwhile, return to the state playoff picture after qualifying out of the Mountain View Conference three straight years from 2014 t0 2016. Bonanza is no stranger to facing difficult opponents, playing in a league that boasts three top-10 teams — the defending state champion Dragons, Lost River and No. 3 Oakland (25-2).
The Antlers appeared to be the odd team out in a three-team playoff race within their conference, but the Raiders lost all-state guard Rachel Parks to a season-ending leg injury in January and Bonanza seized the opportunity to leapfrog them.
The Antlers went on a 7-1 tear over the final three weeks of the season, beating Lost River in the season finale to pull into a tie for third place in the conference standings, then beating the Raiders again in the district tournament to secure the third playoff seed out of the Mountain View Conference.
St. Paul will host the first-round tilt versus Antlers at 6 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to the state quarterfinal March 1 in Pendleton, where they would face either Oakland or No. 12 Enterprise (15-6), the No. 2 qualifier from the Wapiti League.