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The Skyhawks are going back to the Chiles Center to defend their title after dispatching West Salem

SUBMITTED PHOTO: LAUREN RUNNELS - Southridge junior point guard McKelle Meek, junior center Cameron Brink and the Skyhawks are head back to the Class 6A state tournament.

The Southridge Skyhawks girls basketball team has been here before. In fact, a trip to the Chiles Center might as well have been on their calendars since the season tipped off in November. For the first time since Michael Meek coached Southridge to five state championships in six seasons, the Skyhawks can call the trip to the 6A state playoffs in downtown Portland an annual tradition.

The West Salem Titans put up a fight early, but Southridge's suffocating press was too much to deal with as the No. 1 seed Skyhawks defeated the No.17 seeded Titans 70-39 in the second round of the OSAA 6A Playoffs Saturday night.

"I thought it was a good game," Southridge coach Michael Bergmann said. "We played hard and shared the ball really well. I thought that was the best our press has been in a while."

"I think that we supported each other really well and the bench was really good," Southridge sophomore Kilyn Dawkins added. "There was overall a lot of good energy in the game and I thought that helped us push through."

Like many teams, West Salem had no answer for Southridge junior Cameron Brink who led the Skyhawks with a game-high 29 points Saturday night. Junior McKelle Meek had a good night as well, chipping in with 17.

For the Titans, senior Maddie Bertsch scored 25 points, but nobody else had more than five.

The Skyhawks have waltzed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, defeating both teams by a combined margin of 81, but as far as how the team played Bergmann was much more pleased with his team's performance in this game than their 50 point victory over David Douglas on Thursday.

"I think last time we didn't come out hard and this game we came out hard and that was the difference between the games," Dawkins said.

The game remained close early with both teams trading baskets, but like clockwork, Southridge found a way to pull away thanks to their press which they used to force steals which turned into easy lay-ins. A 9-8 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the first quarter soon gave way to a 21-10 advantage at the end of one. West Salem may have been a longer, more athletic, and overly grittier opponent than the aforementioned Scots, but the Skyhawks out-executed and out-played the Titans and their energy and aggression soon gave way to frustration.

"It just helps get easy baskets and it's so nice to be able to get easy baskets," Bergmann said. "I think we would have been okay if the press wasn't working, but it's that much better and we can use our athleticism and length so much better. And it's really hard to be able to game plan against a press if we run it well."

During their run at the Chiles Center, the Skyhawks will most likely find themselves as the most experienced team on the court every game. In their past two trips to state, they are 6-0 with two 6A championships to show for it. The Skyhawks know how to win close games, and that could make the difference in one of these games. That's what comes with experience and an advantage that has taken a few years for them to build.

"I think it's a good thing of course," Bergmann said. "You just have to guard against feeling like you're going to win just because you've been there before. I think the girls have a good mindset and it will be nice that it's not such a nervous thing for them like it is when we're playing at home."

This season the Skyhawks finished their home schedule with only one blemish, a 50 to 54 defeat at the hands of the Tigard Tigers back in December. Only one team ends the season satisfied, and if the Hawks want it to be them, they can't afford any slip-ups at the Chiles Center. There's a chance the Skyhawks might get a rematch with the Tigers in the championship game, but first, they'll have to get through South Medford who they take on in the quarterfinals at 1:30 on Thursday.

"We're going to watch film and figure out what we're going to do heading into South Medford," Bergmann said. "They're a different team than we usually play. They're really fast and they've got good shooters, so we're just going to talk about how to try and stop them and how to score against them."

SUBMITTED PHOTO: LAUREN RUNNELS - Southridge junior point guard McKelle Meek and the Skyhawks are head back to the Class 6A state tournament.

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