A fast start.
A smothering, pressing defense. A patient, efficient offensive attack.
The Southridge High School girls put them all together, and came away with an impressive victory — and a berth in the Class 6A state tournament.
The Skyhawks, leading from start to finish, while fighting off a persistent Tualatin squad throughout, scored a 51-38 win over the Timberwolves in a Class 6A state playoff second-round game played Friday at Tualatin High School.
"Oh, it means everything," Southridge junior guard Maya Hoff said of the victory. "Our team has worked so hard to get here. It's a great feeling. I'm so proud of everyone."
"It's pretty big. We're excited," Southridge senior wing Kyla Vinson said.
With the win, Southridge, the No. 2 team out of the Metro League, and the No. 9 team in the final OSAA power rankings, improved to 19-6 on the season. The Skyhawks also advance to play in the Class 6A state tournament. They'll face Metro League rival Beaverton, the No. 1 seed, in a tournament quarterfinal game set to start at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
"We're just going to keep going, and see how far we can get," Hoff said. "We just want to finish the season the strongest way possible."
"We just want to take it one game at a time," Vinson said.
Tualatin, the No. 3 team out of the Three Rivers League, and the No. 8 team in the power rankings, finished its season with a 19-7 record, a year after going 9-16.
"It was really good," Tualatin junior wing Kasidy Javernick said of the Wolves' season. "This year, we were just looking to rebuild, with a new coach, new program, new system, but we got farther than expected, and it was great. We just worked really hard. We wanted to get good in our system, and play for our seniors, and we did that."
"This was awesome," said Tualatin junior post Natalie Lathrop, who led the Wolves with 13 points in the playoff contest. "We got farther than expected, and being ranked eighth in the state, by the OSAA, that was just cool to see."
Southridge, which has played in the past three Class 6A state championship games, had the postseason experience edge on its side, and that seemed to show in the early going of Friday's playoff game at Tualatin.
The Skyhawks opened the scoring with a 3-point basket by senior guard McKelle Meek, coming off a pass from Hoff. Meek then sank a pair of free throws, giving Southridge a quick 5-0 lead. Tualatin got on the scoreboard on a basket by Lathrop, coming off a pass from junior guard Teagan Gavioa, but Southridge answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Kaylen Blair and Vinson, giving the Skyhawks an 11-2 advantage with 2 minutes and 52 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
"It was great," Hoff said of the Skyhawks' fast start. "If we don't come out with a lot of energy, it usually doesn't go well for us. So, that's our biggest goal every game."
"At the start of the season, we didn't start out games with a lot of energy, so they were closer games, so we we learned we need to come out with a lot of energy to get a lead," Vinson said.
Tualatin, getting baskets from Gaviola, junior Aurora Davis, who had a steal and layup, and junior Sidney Dering, trimmed the Southridge lead to 13-8 at the end of the opening period.
The Wolves got even closer in the second quarter. Javernick sank a 3-pointer, Lathrop made a pair of free throws, and freshman Tabi Searle had a steal and layup, cutting the Southridge lead to19-15 with 3:05 left in the period.
But the Skyhawks responded, in a big way. Meek sank a jumper, Vinson made a pair of free throws, Meek made a foul shot, and Hoff scored on a layup, following a steal by senior Emoney Perry-Reid, coming with 15 seconds left in the quarter, giving Southridge a 26-17 halftime lead.
The Skyhawks kept rolling early in the third quarter. Dering made a free throw to open the scoring in the period, but, after that, Southridge got a basket on a drive by Meek, a layup by Meek, off a pass from Hoff, and a 3-pointer by Blair, off another Hoff assist, giving the visitors a 33-18 lead with 4:01 left in the quarter.
Hoff assisted on a basket by sophomore Tait Quinlan later in the period, helping Southridge take a 39-24 lead to the fourth quarter.
"I knew I had to be aggressive this game, and come out strong, but I also had to remain calm, and hit the open person, and my team did a great job of knocking down shots," Hoff said.
Tualatin, looking to earn its first state tournament bid since 2009, wasn't about to go down without a fight. Javernick opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from the right wing. Then, following a basket by Vinson, Davis sank a 3-pointer, off a Javernick pass, and Lathrop made a short-range banker, off a Dering assist, trimming the Southridge lead to 41-32 with 6:28 left to play in the contest.
But the Wolves couldn't get any closer.
Southridge junior wing Kilyn Dawkins scored on a put-back shot and Meek had a steal and layup, pushing the lead to 45-32 with 4:17 remaining.
From there, the Skyhawks, being very patient on offense, got baskets from Hoff and Dawkins, and a pair of free throws by Meek to close out the 51-38 victory.
"We were excited, but we were just very tired," Vinson said with a laugh.
"We knew we had to come in controlling the pace of the game. In our press break, and half-court, we just needed to stay calm and keep our poise," Hoff said. "On defense, we tried to press them, and make them as uncomfortable as possible, and I think we had some success in that. And, in our half-court, we had to put a body on them, and rebound, prevent second opportunities."
Meek led all scorers in the contest with 20 points. She also had a pair of steals. Vinson, hitting some key shots from the perimeter, added nine points.
"We work together as a team to get open shots," Vinson said.
Dawkins had eight points and nine rebounds. Blair scored six points, and Hoff had a strong overall game, with six points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds.
Southridge, as a team, made 17 of 43 shots from the field, with four 3-pointers, and 13 of 16 free-throw attempts. The Southridge defense also helped force Tualatin into 19 turnovers.
"We just ran our norman zone," Vinson said. "We put in a lot of work with that in practice. They say, 'defense wins games.'"
"We couldn't look past this game," Hoff said. "It was a great win, Tualatin's a great team."
Lathrop, despite being double-teamed at times, paced the Wolves with 13 points. She also pulled down 11 rebounds.
"Being in the post, it's a physical game," Lathrop said. "Sometimes, I'm undersized, and sometimes, I'm bigger. Every game, I have have to go into it strong."
Dering added eight points for the Wolves. Javernick had six points and four rebounds. Davis scored five points, and Gaviola had four.
Tualatin, as a team, made 14 of 43 shots from the field, with three 3-pointers, and seven of 10 free-throw attempts.
"Those guys have a lot of experience, and they're good," Tualatin coach Wes Pappas said of Southridge. "They're seasoned, and they know they do. They've played in these big games before, and our girls haven't. I think we played real hard, but we just didn't finish well. That's something you have to go through. This offseason, we're going to work really hard, and we're going to come back stronger than ever."
"We had a lot of game-planning for this, but, in the end, it came down to making shots, but it's fine," Javernick said. "We tried hard, and we played our best. We just wanted to win this for our seniors, but we're proud of our season, and proud of what we accomplished."
"I think it came down to making the shots that we didn't make, and they made a lot of their shots, and I think, say next year, if we play them again, we're going to come back hard, and I think we could win," Lathrop said.
Southridge, if it beats Beaverton in Wednesday's tournament quarterfinal game, will face either Mountainside or Liberty in a tournament semifinal game Friday at 1:30 p.m. The state championship game is slated for March 14, starting at 3:15 p.m.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.