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Saxon senior star fends off fourth quarter Apollo uprising in the Class 6A quarterfinals

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset shooting guard Mary Kay Naro gets off a shot over South Salem in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

The blood gushed from South Salem superstar Evina Westbrook's nose into her hands and suddenly Sunset's window of opportunity was wide open.

After nearly three fitful quarters of missed shots and prolonged scoring droughts, finally, the Apollos caught a break. With 2:48 left in the third quarter of the Class 6A quarterfinals and Sunset trailing the two-time defending state champion Saxons 36-23 with 2:48 left in the third quarter, Westbrook jogged to the Chiles Center locker room for medical assistance — the result of an inadvertent elbow to the face.

And, not coincidentally, the game' energy shifted. Sunset's shots started to drop. The Apollos' aggression, already elevated on the state stage, went up two more rungs. Seniors Rose Pflug, Maddie Muhlheim and Amanda Carpenter — the three Apollo mainstays who helped drive this team to the state tournament — took the game into their grasp and lugged Sunset to within 39-35 early in the fourth quarter on a hard-earned Carpenter three-point play.

The game's outcome hung in the balance. Sunset had swung the momentum with the 14-3 discharge and seemed primed to pull even closer, so long as Westbrook remained sidelined.

But then, in the moments prior to Carpenter's three-point play, Westbrook re-entered the arena and ran right to the scorer's table to check in. Then, as only the reigning Class 6A Player of the Year could do, Westbrook promptly snuffed out Sunset's state title hopes.

Making seemingly every big play when necessary and instilling confidence and calm in her young teammates, Westbrook scored seven of her game-high 25 points and dished out two key assists to regain control in the fourth quarter and ultimately send the Apollos to the consolation bracket with a 55-48 win on March 9. South Salem will play Oregon City in the 6A semifinals on Friday at 8:15 p.m.

"It was a well-fought game between two good teams," Pflug said. "South Salem is gonna do big things. Hopefully they win state, so we can say we lost to the champion. I wish we would've given them a little bit better of a run, but we made a nice little comeback there. We capitalized on the fact that (Westbrook) was out and did what we could. Unfortunately we couldn't keep it there. It was a good fight for us."

"One of the best things about this team is we're never out of it," Muhlheim said. "It shows a lot in our character about how we always keep going. It's fun to play with teammates like that."

Westbrook — a top-five player nationally who just won the Morgan Wooten Player of the Year Award and is signed with the University of Tennessee — scored 25 points, snagged seven rebounds and dished out four assists in addition to supplying the sort of senior leadership that filled her young teammates with conviction when she came back in early in the fourth.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior Rose Pflug rises to the rim against South Salem in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

Pflug, battling an unlucky flu bug that took away her voice and attacked her lungs, gave an all-out gutty effort in trying to stay with Westbrook. The Pepperdine signee bumped Westbrook, arm-chucked her, reached where and when she could and tried to force Westbrook into areas of the floor where other Apollos awaited. Pflug did all she could considering the unfortunate circumstances. Westbrook simply willed No. 2 South Salem to the semifinals in similar fashion to what the All-American did to Jesuit last season on the same stage.

"She's the number two player in the nation for a reason," Pflug said of Westbrook. "It was definitely fun to play against a girl like that. You don't get those opportunities all the time."

"Rose played really good 'D' on her, which was cool to watch," Muhlheim said. "(Westbrook) is definitely a really good player. We just did the best we could...but she can do that to you."

Following a fast first quarter start that included two tough and-one three point plays and a Muhlheim triple over the outstretched Westbrook, Sunset went stone cold from the field. Some of that was the Saxons' defense, headed by Westbrook mirroring Pflug and switching on to Muhlheim midway through the first quarter and containing the Apollos' elites. Some of it was Sunset just didn't make the shots it normally does. Sunset went more than seven minutes without a point in the second quarter while Westbrook and company extended their lead to as much as 32-15 on a Dani Harley three from the right wing.

Still, the Apollos never packed it in. With Westbrook out late in the third, Muhlheim splashed a three from the left angle and then slashed inside for two to come within single digits at 36-28. Harley answered with a huge three, but Muhlheim responded with a sweet dipsy do right handed scoop and Pflug floored past the Saxon defense for two to come even closer at 39-32.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior forward Amanda Carpenter boxes out South Salem in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

Yet, the moment Westbrook trotted back to the court, the game's end product was a mere formality. Upon her return, Westbrook promptly whooshed to the rim for a lefty layup. Then the future Volunteer handed off a pass to Harley for three and then flicked a three of her own from the top of the key to extend South Salem's lead to 47-35. The Apollos pulled within seven, but with less than a minute to go in the fourth. Pflug and Muhlheim both finished with 14 points and Carpenter added 13.

Sunset plays Clackamas in the 6A consolation semifinals on Friday at 10:45 a.m. With a win, the Apollos are assured a state place.

"You're pissed for a little bit because you care, and then you bag it," Pflug said. "Clackamas is a good team and we have to act like it's a championship game. We have to end the season on 'W'."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior point guard Maddie Muhlheim lifts a three-pointer against South Salem.

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