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Defending Class 6A state champions get a test from Beavers, but battle through to victory

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior Maggie Freeman flies to the basket for two against Beaverton on Tuesday.

The champs might finally have a worthy challenger, one who hails from right down the road.

Beaverton, a team lined with young star power and a coach in Kathy Adelman-Naro who's one of the best in the business, has Southridge's complete attention and respect.

But there's a big difference between testing a team and toppling a titan, between tough talk and tangible victories.

Beaverton is on the rise for sure, but Southridge and its sophomore superstar Cameron Brink are still king. Brink, as she is in seemingly every big game, was at her best, scoring 22 points to along with 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 assists and she had plenty of aid from her teammates in a 54-35 win over the Beavers on Tuesday at Beaverton High School.

"Playing Beaverton is a big wakeup call for us," Southridge senior post Natalie Hoff said. "Beaverton is a great team, probably the best team they've had since my freshman year. It's exciting. We've seen the Metro League is a lot stronger than we think it is."

In search of in-state trials to assess where their team is at seven weeks before the Class 6A state tournament, the reigning champion Skyhawks have run up on Benson and Beaverton and handled both in back-to-back days. The super-sized Metro matchup pitted the defending state winners against the No. 5 Beavers who hadn't lost to an in-state opponent before a brimming, loud and large crowd that crammed the student sections and created a compelling, charged undercurrent for both teams to play in. Beaverton has been the story of the year not only in the Metro League but the state as a whole. They were the decided underdog going into the Southridge clash but came out more confident than ever.

"We had a lot to prove, but (Southridge) had everything to lose and we had nothing to lose," Beaverton senior Cierra Speck said. "It was such an intense game to be a part of. We started strong, we just couldn't carry it all the way through. (Adelman-Naro) prepared us so well for this game. We're going to learn so much about ourselves from this game and be ready for the rest of Metro. The second round of Metro is going to be really intense because we've beaten all of those teams. We're just going up from here. There's no going back."

The Beavers make no bones about wanting to beat their backyard rival. They're not in awe of the Skyhawks or their state championship rings. Of all the Class 6A teams, Beaverton is one of the few with the talent to size up Southridge for long stretches.

"We know we can beat them, it's just us figuring out how and learning things from this game," Speck said. "We know we can do it. We just have to keep the energy going and keep growing as a team. We're already excited about playing them again. We were talking about that in the locker room. They might have gotten us tonight, but hopefully, they won't get us the next time."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton wing Sydney Erikstrup finishes a left-handed layup against Southridge on Tuesday.

Beaverton bolted out of the gate, using the energy of its electric student section and the ambidextrous driving ability of Sydney and Laura Erikstrup to grab an early 7-4 lead with 3:56 left in the first quarter. It was the kind of required start needed to at least nip at the champs' heels, a zealous, tough-minded beginning that got Beaverton's big home crowd involved and engaged to begin the game.

"Honestly, that strong start surprised us," Hoff said. "We haven't faced a team that's come out with that much energy. We had to match their intensity. It's really hard to play at Beaverton and I think their crowd helps them a lot. I get a little nervous playing at Beaverton because their crowd is so into it, but I think our crowd matched them."

But from the midway point of the first quarter through the early part of the second, Brink and the Hawks answered in fittingly elite fashion as the sophomore scored 12 unanswered points on a mix of backdoor dives to the tin, rim runs, post-ups and duck-ins.

"Yesterday (against Benson) was a hard game for her and she definitely bounced back," Hoff said of Brink. "Before the game, she was really into it. She had a lot of intensity. We just feed off of that."

Because Beaverton was one of the few teams brave enough to play straight up man-to-man without sending a double team Brink's way, the sensation was able to turn Southridge's deficit into a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter.

"It's incredibly hard to guard Brink with her height and athleticism," Speck said. "You jump or touch her and it's a foul, even if you go straight up and she goes straight up. And Southridge has so many good athletes and shooters on the outside. We'd rather give up the two (point basket) than the three. If we double, that leaves the three open."

Hoff was stellar in the second quarter, slicing to the rim with a strong left-handed drive, making her patented 15-footer from the left elbow while also stepping out behind the three-point line and showing off her improved long-range stroke. Because Hoff and Brink are such forces inside, most teams play some sort of zone defense to counteract Southridge's size advantage. But Beaverton elected to guard each post without much help in order to nullify Maggie Freeman and McKelle Meek, the Skyhawks' duo of outside marksmen.

"Beaverton has the best (man-to-man) defense that I've seen in the state," Hoff said. "And they're really disciplined. Coming in, that was different because we're used to playing against the zone. But, we adjusted."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge post Cameron Brink blocks a shot against Beaverton on Tuesday.

Southridge went on an 8-0 run to start the second half with Brink bagging six straight points and Freeman banking home an inside finish to give the Skyhawks a 33-19 lead. And while Sydney Erikstrup and Speck each hit jumpers, Southridge always had an answer, whether it was Meek blazing down the baseline, Freeman making her impact felt on both ends of the floor or Hoff smoothly showing off her diverse post game.

The Beavers trailed 41-27 in the fourth quarter but responded with consecutive threes from Mackenzie Naro and Sydney Erikstrup to stay within striking range at 41-33. When Beaverton closed in, however, Brink rebounded her own miss and muscled it up toward the rim for two. Then the 6-4 star caught out-of-bounds lob pass from Meek beneath the basket, kept the ball high and finished to go up 45-33. The rest of the way, Southridge went to the free throw line and made seven straight to put the game on ice.

Hoff said Beaverton beat Southridge to the 50-50 balls, the in-the-air and on-the-floor plays that both teams went after, but the Beavers came away with in the first half. Yet, Beaverton only had one offensive board in the second half as Southridge boxed out better and read the ball off the backboards when the Beavers missed. The Skyhawks' 2-3 zone stretched out along the perimeter and tagged cutters and drivers who tried to knife inside and test Brink in the middle. The Beavers, a team known for their floor-stretching potential, only made four threes as a team.

"Beaverton doesn't have any players who can't shoot," Hoff said. "And they also have a really good inside game, so it was all about communication and knowing where everyone is."

The Skyhawks' harassing defensive pressure, length and overall defensive activity caused takeaways that proceeded into early offense and high-powered transition basketball with Meek, Hoff, Freeman and Brink running the floor proficiently. Speck said Beaverton's youth, with three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup beside her, was as Southridge stormed ahead in the fourth. Unfamiliar with having to play from behind, the Beavers played frantically, trying to make up the deficit with rushed offensive trips and tangled half-court offense that trigged the Skyhawks' fast break game.

Meek had 14 points for Southridge while Hoff added 10. Sydney Erikstrup had a team-high 10 for Beaverton and Laura added six.

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