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Beavers blast St. Mary's with a 16-0 second quarter blitz, will play Southridge in quarters

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Beaverton girls basketball team beat St. Marys to advance to the Class 6A quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Above the gymnasium scoreboard, to the direct right of Beaverton High School's state men's basketball championship banner, is a vacant white tile wall just waiting to be filled.

If the Beaver girls' basketball team keeps playing at this high of a level on both ends of the floor, with harmony on offense and combativeness on defense, it won't be much longer until that opening is occupied with another black and orange standard.

Behind the senior superstar trio of Mary Kay Naro, Laura and Erikstrup and bound by truculent man-to-man team defense that kept rising to the task, Beaverton blew past St. Mary's 56-36 in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs on March 6 at Beaverton High School.

"We have an ultimate goal, so that's what we're striving after," Laura Erikstrup said. "We've had a checklist all season. We wanted to win Metro. We wanted to work hard in practice every single day, dialing in, doing the little things, being focused. It's knowing we're good enough, that we can attack and have that mentality. We all came here connected. We wanted to have fun and enjoy it."

The Beavers are going back to the Chiles Center for the third straight year, having clinched another berth in the elite eight where they'll play long-time nemesis Southridge in the 6A quarters on Wednesday at 1:30 pm. After blazing the Blues, the Metro League champions cut down the net dangling from the rim, honoring their first outright conference title in 2002. It was good practice for what could come next Saturday for the 6A state title favorites. This Beaver team has a bulletproof feel to it, not just because of the beautiful ball movement, the subtle selfless extra passes, the sensational scoring ability of Naro and the Erikstrup twins or the depth of talent up and down the roster. Those attributes are appealing, of course. But what sets Beaverton apart is its equal opportunity buy-in to locking teams up defensively. This is not a one-side of the court type of team. They dedicate themselves to the defensive end of the floor that's both commendable and front-and-center on a night-to-night basis. For all the flash and offensive fireworks, Beaverton can take a team's heart when it puts barricades around the hoop.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton senior post Laura Erikstrup spins inside against a trio of Blues defenders.

St. Mary's tried to spread Beaverton out, put the Beaver defenders on islands around the floor and get downhill off the dribble one-on-one. There was, however, no dice. Beaverton slid its feet, cut the Blues off, turned them, bodied them, arms extended, hands lifted high and forced St. Mary's into several ugly-looking possessions that resulted in bricks or turnovers. St. Mary's wanted to collapse the Beaver defense and kick the ball out to its knockdown shooters. But once Beaverton shut down dribble penetration and didn't have to help off to stop the drives, the Blues were rudderless. Sydney Erikstrup and Naro were the harassing ringleaders out front. But Laura Erikstrup, Reverman, Alexa and Zoe Borter were all excellent, staying tight to their assignment, holding up against St. Mary's incessant attacks, contesting jumpers, playing physical without fouling. Erikstrup said there are 30-minute stretches in practice where the only people allowed to touch the basketball are the coaches. Everyone else is in a defensive stance, crouching, talking, sliding, helping, rotating. Leading up to St. Mary's, those sessions were business as usual for the Beavs.

"We got drilled the past two days in practice," Laura Erikstrup said with a laugh. "We work on it every day: closeouts, staying low on defense. We've worked on it all year and it's really starting to show now. We didn't want to give them any easy baskets or open looks. We're a strong defensive team and that's what we pride ourselves on."

St. Mary's got out to a 14-8 second-quarter lead with 4:55 to go, using a 7-0 run to claim its biggest edge of the game. Yet, this Beaverton has a different double-edged gear to it. It has playing levels it can go to that other teams with less talent just simply can't reach. Over the final five minutes of the period, Beaverton put its stamp on the second-round clash, blitzing the Blues with a 16-0 burst that's come to symbolize who this team is this season. Sydney Erikstrup was the fire starter, swishing a three from the top of the key, and then later grabbing a defensive board floored into the open court and finishing at the rim with a left-handed step-through move to reclaim a 15-14 edge.

"She did a great job of being aggressive and getting us going," Naro said of Sydney Erikstrup. "She brought energy. She brought talk. When you do that, everyone feeds off of it. She pushed us to the start of that run."

Naro came up with a steal, pressed the ball up court opportunity to get a two-on-one in transition and bounced a pass to a running Reverman for a layup. Then Sydney Erikstrup jumped an entry pass to the high post, pushed the fast break by herself and again scored with her left hand.

"Once we get going, we get going," Laura Erikstrup said with a smile. "It's fun knowing 'Hey we just scored, let's get back and get a stop on defense, go back and score again'. Having trust in each other has helped us get to where we are today. It's fun knowing we can go on these runs because some teams can't do that."

"We really pressured them, made them second guess a little bit and that lead to more momentum for us," Naro said. "We believe in ourselves; we know we can do it, we're connected, we're together. And we all have to go against each other in practice. We push each other a lot. We make each other better. That really carried over to today."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Beaverton girls basketball bench celebrates a big early basket against St. Marys.

With St. Mary's reeling and Beaverton surging as the second quarter wound down, Naro whittled the clock, pierced the Blues' 1-2-2 zone as they frantically tried to hack the point guard with two fouls to give, only to fruitlessly yield a kickout three to Reverman in the right corner who buried the triple to top a 16-0 run going into the half up 24-14.

This was Beaverton at its best, marrying takeaway-heavy, pressure-fused defense with unselfish, push the ball at breakneck speed offense. Laura Erikstrup scored seven points in the third, converting high-low passes from the high post from her twin sister. And Naro was scintillating in the fourth, scoring nine points including a gutty and-one. The Beavers led by 13 in the third and by as much as 20 in the fourth. Over the final 21 minutes of game action against the Blues, Beaverton allowed just 22 points, continuing its super defense trend.

"It's a good expectation for us to set and we need to hold that every single game," Naro said.

It was the last home game ever for Naro, Erikstrup, Reverman and the Beaver senior class that's been instrumental in reviving this program along with head coach Kathy Naro and her staff. But the Beavers certainly wouldn't mind bringing home the first-place trophy and having a school-wide assembly back in their gym in a few weeks. Beaverton will most likely have to navigate a Metro-heavy minefield to reach the title bout, especially now that Cameron Brink is back in the lineup for the Mavericks. Yet, they've proven themselves worthy of winning a state title. They've earned the right as the top-ranked 6A team all season long. They've paid their dues, losing twice in the 6A semis, expedited the process organically, but not skipped a single step. Beaverton is 22-4 overall and hasn't lost to a single in-state team. It hasn't lost period since three days after Christmas. This is Beaverton's time and the Beavs are ready to embrace it.

"We just have to be us, focus on ourselves and I think we'll be fine," Laura Erikstrup said.

"Southridge is really good, but if we focus in on our defense, that's what helped us last time," Naro said. "We just have to be us. It's a good challenge. It's something fun to be a part of. I think it motivates us a little more to come out ready to go."

Naro finished with a game-high 19 points, Sydney Erikstrup had 13, Laura Erikstrup finished with 11 and Reverman had 10.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton assistant coach Lindsey Estep Watson puts the final cuts on the net for the Beavers.

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