Adversity struck the reigning state champs in a myriad of ways, from a number of unforeseen directions, at the most inopportune time.
Southridge superstar Cameron Brink hurt her left ankle and was seen on crutches with her swollen appendage concealed by a big bag of ice. Natalie Hoff picked up her fourth foul with 4 minutes and 28 seconds left in the third quarter. Suddenly, two of the Skyhawks stars were sidelined, but this wasn't some throwaway Metro League contest.
This was the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs, against a ravenous Canby squad that came into the showdown loaded up, ready to shock the world and frankly outplayed the defending state champions in the first half with Brink and Hoff on the floor.
The Skyhawks' depth was tested. Their mettle was stretched. Southridge appeared more vulnerable than ever. But with the storm swirling around them, the Skyhawks steadied. Their bench, buoyed by the likes of Emoney Reid, Kyla Vinson and Kaylen Blair put forth their best effort, bringing energy, toughness and defense to a game that was do-or-die. Young guards like Maya Hoff and McKelle Meek grew up before the Skyhawk faithful's eyes, playing poised and precociously.
Canby came within 46-42 early in the fourth quarter. But when the Cougars tried to cast one final stone, Hoff and company swatted it away. Re-inserted back in the game 5:22 to go, Hoff scored nine points down the stretch and the Skyhawks' defense dug in enough to keep the Cougars at bay in a 70-54 win at Southridge High School on Friday.
"We had so many people step up and I was just so proud of everyone that we got it done," Natalie Hoff said. "At halftime, we were the most hyped up that we've ever been. I think it just gave us motivation. We had to have everyone totally in that game and focused."
Canby could not have asked for a better team-wide crack at the champs. The No. 16 Cougars were unafraid, undaunted, and incredibly confident in themselves, in each other, in what their common purpose was. From the jump, Cassidy Posey, Hannah Myers, Alice Lambert and the rest of Canby stars set a tone of assertiveness that was palpable to the naked eye and seeped from the court to the bench, to the fans behind them.
"From the beginning, in our pregame locker room, we said we could beat this team," Lambert said. "We thought every team that goes against them goes in scared. Being ranked 16th, we had nothing to lose. They had everything to lose. They had a state championship on the line, they were the ones who should've been scared. And in the first half, we saw that fear in their faces. We came in confident and I'm so proud of that."
Adair scored seven points in the first quarter, firing away from deep and putting tough shots over the outstretched arms of Hoff and Brink. Posey was a problem for Southridge off the dribble, splitting double teams, spinning inside for floaters and leaners. Canby led by as much nine in the first quarter and took a 23-15 lead at the end of one. The Cougars didn't care about Southridge's national rankings, state title prestige or individual accolades. Canby played with no fear, no timidity. Rather they competed, clawed and sustained a high level of play that lasted long into the fourth quarter. They came to turn the state order upside down and nearly did. At the half, with their seniors playing well and others such as Nicole Mickelson and Katie O'Dell making an impact, Canby was tied 32-32 with the prohibitive state favorite.
"We were so pumped up going into halftime," Lambert said. "I don't think any team has been that close to (Southridge) this entire season. That just carried us. We knew we could win that game. We shoot with confidence and we had to do that tonight. Our bench was on fire, our crowd was into it."
And with Brink sidelined and Hoff saddled with second-half foul trouble, it felt like Canby was in striking range of an all-time upset.
But if you're going to beat the champs, you have to knock them out. Southridge didn't win a state championship a year ago or run roughshod over the state this season by accident. The Skyhawks have faced adversity before, against Grant in the 6A semis last season when Brink spent most of the game in foul trouble. They've endured nights where games go sideways. Southridge weathered Canby's storm with unexpected sources of productivity. Blair battled on the boards and was active defensively on the perimeter. Vinson's spark and long wingspan atop the Southridge 2-3 zone stymied Canby's hot outside shooting and pushed back the Cougar offense beyond the three-point line. Players were who relatively unproven paid huge dividends for Southridge. They lifted the Skyhawks from the depths of what felt like a dire series of developments.
"During the season they mostly play JV and that's a whole different level," Hoff said. "To come into a varsity game like this, especially when the game is tied and our season is on the line, it's amazing that they stepped up."
Reid made a huge three-pointer from the top of the key in the third quarter that extended Southridge's lead to 46-37 and later executed a beautiful wrap around pass to Hoff inside for two in the fourth. She too played dynamic defense and help gang rebound against the scrappy Cougar posts.
"(Reid) knew she had a huge role to fill and she did exactly that," Southridge senior Maggie Freeman said. "That three was huge, she got tons of loose balls. She was just all over the place. Our bench players were hyped and they put their 'all' into their time on the court just when we needed them. Everybody was hustling and attacking doing everything we could possibly do to get our lead back. Our bench really showed they know how to play this game. Even though it was a really nerve-wracking position to be in for them, having never been in it before, they can withstand that pressure and know what to do."
Natalie Hoff had a fantastic second half, scoring 16 points on an array of three-pointers, deft off the dribble moves and patented post moves she's had in her arsenal since starting for Southridge as a freshman. Itching to get back in the game after sitting for nearly eight minutes in the second half, Hoff put Southridge on her back with Brink out and Freeman blanketed by Canby's defense. As the focal point of the Skyhawk offense, Hoff scored a game-high 26 points. Seven of Hoff's points came at the beginning of the third quarter, which helped Southridge surge ahead to a 41-34 lead before picking up her fourth foul.
"I took the challenge," Hoff said. "Sometimes I get really nervous and I get in my own head, so my mentality was just play. I felt like I had a bigger role and I like having a bigger role, too. I worked really hard leading up to this game, worked really hard on my three-point shot. I think the work I put in this season just came out this game."
Maya Hoff and McKelle Meek are all-Metro players and future centerpieces of the Skyhawk program. With their lauded teammates sidelined, the young guards were asked to take on more and accelerate their maturation without a safety net to break their fall. Yet, the backcourt was pivotal, running the offense with aplomb, hounding Posey and Adair and coming up with steals defensively. Meek swished a high-arching three after a whisked crosscourt pass from Maya Hoff to go up 57-46 in the fourth. Meek scuffled for a defensive board following missed Cougar free throw, and threw a long outlet pass to Natalie Hoff who caught the ball, laid it home plus the foul, and finished the and-one 60-48. Then the sophomore floor general harassed Canby into an over-and-back turnover.
Canby closed within 62-51 on a Myers three with 2:12 left in the fourth, but by then the game's outcome was simply out of reach. Myers led Canby with 20 points while Lambert and Posey both added eight.
"I have to give it to their other players, they really stepped it up," Lambert said. "Props to them. That takes some guts from the younger players who got in. We still had that motivation and still had the mindset that we were going to win. But, they really pushed it in the second half and we let it get away."
The win sends Southridge back to the 6A state tournament for the second consecutive season. The Hawks take on Clackamas in the 6A quarterfinals on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Chiles Center. Southridge smoked the Cavs, 59-26, at the Nike Interstate Shootout in December, but anticipate a much more competitive game this time around.
"We're expecting them to be a lot better than last time," Hoff said. "We have to work hard the next couple of days to prepare for them.
"They're going to come out hard, ready to win, ready to play hard," Freeman said. "This could be their last game, it could be our last game. They're going to do whatever they can to stop us and we're gonna do whatever we can to stop them. We kind have a rivalry with them, but I definitely think it's going to be a different game than the last time we played them."