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Skyhawks fall vicitim to a hungry, determined Techster team in Class 6A state championship

TIMES PHOTO: JON HOUSE - Southridge wings Kilyn Dawkins and Kyla Vinson smother a Benson ball handler in the Class 6A state title.

The trilogy of Class 6A girls basketball state championships wasn't meant to be for Southridge.

Benson, a team that's been hell-bent on beating the Skyhawks since losing handily to the two-time defending champs in the title tilt a year ago, played its best ball of the season in the rematch on Saturday and stunned Southridge in a 66-42 decision at the Chiles Center on Saturday.

Southridge, so dominant, so powerful over the last three years looked mortal, at least for one night. Credit Benson completely for that chink in the Skyhawk armor, however. The Techsters were nearly impeccable in carrying out a gameplan designed at eroding Southridge's soundproof zone defense while playing their own brand of physical, brainy defense that took the Skyhawks out of what they wanted to do offensively.

Benson busted the myth of Southridge's invincibility, but the Skyhawks didn't need to feel any shame on their behalf. There were tears and lowered heads as Southridge walked out of the locker room, hoods up, eyes red. Juniors like Cameron Brink, McKelle Meek and Kaylen Blair have rarely tasted defeat over their starry Skyhawk stints. After two years of cutting down the nets at Chiles, Southridge was the team sitting on the bench watching Benson wildly celebrate with the blue trophy on its side of the court. State championship parties have essentially become tradition at Southridge, which is why the sting will last longer than most. Still, with every key rotation player coming back in 2019-20 and the invulnerable Brink returning in the middle, there's no reason to think Southridge can't go three for four next season. This defeat could be the beginning of a new state title hunt.

"What I was happy to see was how disappointed they were, not because I want them to be sad, but because they care so much," Southridge head coach Michael Bergmann said. "I believe they're going to come back a lot hungrier from that. I told the girls you're not defined by wins and losses. You're defined by character. This is a really good chance for their character to keep growing as people and as basketball players."

Southridge's two-year championship run ended not by fluke but by Benson's execution on both ends of the floor. Unlike many state contenders of the past, the Techsters cracked the Skyhawks' normally savage 2-3 zone by feeding Ciera Ellington in the high post and letting the senior southpaw either sink midrange jumpers or feed a diving teammate at the rim. Benson bolted to a 16-6 first quarter lead, using the energy of its boisterous crowd and the brilliant offensive scheme of head coach Eric Knox to put Southridge on its heels early.

But the Skyhawks responded as champions do. Brink picked up her second foul early in the second quarter and exited the contest after scoring Southridge's first eight points of the game. Yet Blair banked in a left-wing three, Kilyn Dawkins put home a left-handed layup on a lob from Meek and Akeve Randall nailed a pull-up jumper to bring Southridge within 20-15.

Brink came back in and banked in a jumper and Blair cut Benson's lead even further, lacing a left wing three to make it 22-20 with 3:33 to go in the first half. But the Techsters regained control, going on an 11-0 run fueled by two threes from Bria Dixson that gave Benson a 33-20 lead going into halftime.

TIMES PHOTO: JON HOUSE - Southridge junior Cameron Brink swats away a Benson shot in the Class 6A state title.

Over the course of the season, it seemed the Techsters were so emotionally set on avenging that eye-sore title defeat that some believed Benson might be too jacked up energy-wise to truly go at Southridge's throne. Yet Benson was so calculated and composed when it came to dissecting the zone, moving the ball unflappably, finding the gaps in the high post and short corner, cutting through open windows and getting great not just good shots. Gone were the days of skip passes sailing into the second row. Frustration-fueled fouls and careless turnovers didn't exist. The air balls and bricks Southridge forced in the first championship battle between these two powers were missing. Benson shot 50 percent from the field as a team and bagged an insane 22 assists on 25 made field goals. Ellington was exceptional with 20 points and eight dimes. The senior was responsible for Benson's first three hoops of the second half by either scoring or dishing as the Techsters opened up a 39-22 lead. Bergmann said Southridge had five or six mental lapses throughout the game and Benson made the Skyhawks pay for each slip-up. It didn't help that sophomore Maya Hoff, Southridge's best perimeter defender and a key cog in the 2-3 zone was out after suffering a broken jaw in the 6A semis against Beaverton. Benson still brought its patented passion to the floor, but it was channeled in a mature way that helped elevate its play to another level and stay there for a blissful 32 minutes.

"Over the years they're so much more patient now and they don't press, and they take good shots," Bergmann said. "They're a good team and we knew that going in. Everyone just felt a little bit off today. (Ellington) was incredible. A couple of those shots, there's no way you're taking those away. They're physical and have a great heart. They wanted it."

Four other Techsters scored in double figures including Tayler Lyday who had 15 points, eight boards and three assists. Lyday and Aujae Yoakum doubled Brink down low throughout the game, fronting and backing the Stanford commit whenever Southridge tried to enter the ball into the post. Brink was still incredibly effective with a game-high 23 points (11-for-20 shooting) and 16 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive glass. The rest of the Skyhawks shot just 7-for-34 from the field including 3-for-20 from three-point land. Half of Brink's hoops came off offensive putbacks. Benson blatantly left select shooters open and was willing to live with the consequences so long as Brink didn't go off for 40 points and 20 plus rebounds as she's capable of. Benson led 50-34 at the end of the third quarter and moved that lead out to the 20-point range the rest of the way.

"Benson did a good job of not allowing us to get to our spots and I don't think we fought hard enough to get to those spots and run our stuff with timing," Bergmann said. "We were worrying instead of running our stuff. We shared the ball at times and in others took shots we probably shouldn't have taken."

Still, the strides Southridge made this year can't be overlooked. Meek and Brink stepped into larger leadership roles as captains and go into next season with nearly 80 starts apiece under their belts including three championship game appearances. Blair took on an even bigger role in the starting lineup. Dawkins became more and more comfortable as the year went on after transferring from Lake Oswego. The Skyhawks lost two huge pieces in Natalie Hoff and Maggie Freeman, players who were critical on and off the court during Southridge's championship run. And while it took time for the Skyhawks to adjust, Bergmann said he's never been prouder of a group.

"This is the best I've ever seen a team mature from the first time I coached them until now," Bergmann said. "The great thing is they have so much more room to grow. They played as a team and grew into bigger roles as leaders. We lost such leadership from last year with Natalie and Maggie. I don't think the girls understood how much responsibility they took and how much they sacrificed. Every girl did in a different way at different times."

TIMES PHOTO: JON HOUSE - Southridge junior Cameron Brink had 22 points and 16 rebounds in the Class 6A state title.

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