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Beavers use defense, rebounding, Erikstrup to grind out key quarterfinal win

TIMES PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Beaverton senior post Laura Erikstrup scored a game-high 14 points against Southridge in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

Southridge closed the once-sizable gap between itself and Beaverton, but the Beavers' margin for error is so expansive, its talent base spread so wide, that the Class 6A state favorites can play below their standards and still succeed.

In the 6A quarterfinals, facing the Skyhawks for the third time this year and the eighth time the past three years, Beaverton wasn't at its best, but it battled, sparred and came up with gritty methods to get around its archenemy. That's what champions do, find ways to get the job done in less than ideal circumstances.

Beaverton post Laura Erikstrup was the best player on the floor at times, a constant source of offensive comfort inside. The Beavers' teeming team defense was even better than it's been all year. And when her team needed her most, senior point guard Mary Kay Naro came up with the huge plays, pushing Beaverton to a 37-26 quarterfinal win over Southridge on March 11 at the Chiles Center. Beaverton will face No. 4 Liberty in the 6A semis on Friday at 1:30 p.m. back at Chiles. Southridge will play Mountainside in the 6A consolation bracket on Thursday at 9 a.m. This will be the Beavers' third trip to the semis in as many years. It hasn't broken through yet, but that curse could be cured if Beaverton keeps this kind of play up.

"We can't get too high or too low, we just have to find that sweet spot," Sydney Erikstrup said. "We know what it's like to lose in that game, so we don't want to have that feeling again."

The full 32-minute effort was a far cry from the 20-point blitzing Southridge absorbed at the hands of the Beavers two weeks ago. The Skyhawks, many of whom are proud champions, many of whom played in the last three 6A title games, soldiered right at Beaverton, diving on loose balls, creating collisions, playing with heart, physicality and championship level effort. Maya Hoff was all around the floor on both ends. Kilyn Dawkins took a charge right under the chin battling with Laura Erikstrup. Kaylen Blair tore up her knee guards getting on the floor.

"We didn't have the same mental mistakes this time and our effort was better," Southridge head coach Michael Bergmann said. "They gave their full effort today. I was proud of them. It was a great game. They did a great job of just fighting."

TIMES PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Southridge senior point guard McKelle Meek scored 13 points for the Skyhawks against Beaverton.

In the fourth quarter, trailing 27-19, McKelle Meek willed her way to the free throw line twice and made all four free throws. Her final two brought Southridge with 34-29 with five minutes to go. With Beaverton in the bonus, it seemed like if the Skyhawks could keep penetrating and getting to the charity stripe, they'd have a chance.

But in closing time, as Southridge cut into Beaverton's lead, it was Naro who put her foot on the gas. The senior point guard, who missed her first seven shots of the contest, hit two runners: one left-handed, the other right-handed, both of which bounced off the corners on the window and in. With Beaverton spreading the floor and milking the clock, Naro saw openings in the Skyhawk defense and attacked rather than sit on the ball and try to burn more time. Her four-point spree gave Beaverton a 33-24 lead.

"(Naro) and I stay after practice to work on different things and that's something she's showing now," Sydney Erikstrup said. "She's putting in the work. I think all were a little relieved when we saw those shots go in. They gave us a little more confidence."

TIMES PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Beaverton senior point guard Mary Kay Naro scored all eight of her points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter against Southridge.

Naro scored eight points in the final five minutes of the game, all the while holding Meek to just 13 points on 3-for-16 shooting.

"(Naro) played amazing defense on (Meek)," Sydney Erikstrup said. "I don't know anybody who can guard McKelle like that for a whole game."

Southridge's point total was a season-low. The Skyhawks shot just 25.8 percent from the field. Beaverton didn't muster any points off turnovers, but big defensive stands seemed to spark a Beaver group that shot an uncustomary 36 percent from the floor. They limited Meek when she tried to get downhill, either off her own drives to the rim or dribble handoffs, cutting off attacks with strong switches and extended limbs that made it hard to get shots over the Beaver backline. Beaverton limited Southridge to just eight field goals, won the rebounding battle 32-19 and scored 12 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.

"Honestly, our defense won it for us," Sydney Erikstrup said. "That's what we've harped on all year. We were good about being in help side and switching on (Meek). She's such a good off the dribble shooter, so we had to make sure that she couldn't get by us and score. We just had to play with our hands up, see the ball and not just stare at our own person, but see the whole floor."

TIMES PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Southridge junior guard Maya Hoff gets to the rim through contact against Beaverton.

Beaverton led 19-12 at the half. Laura Erikstrup had her way inside against the Skyhawk 2-3 zone, fighting for position on both blocks, presenting herself for post feeds with a strong base and high hands. The Beaver perimeter players such as Mackenzie Naro and Jordyn Reverman did a great job of feeding Erikstrup, ball faking passes to get the zone to move and then firing inside to the senior forward who made her moves quickly before the Skyhawks could converge on her. Laura Erikstrup finished the game with a contest-high 14.

"If they tried to double (Laura), it didn't matter," Sydney Erikstrup said. "She has such a good presence. We know how to get it to her and feed off of her. She really got us going this game. She was phenomenal. Her success was the whole team's success. If you made that pass (to Laura), those were your points, too."

This was the final Beaverton-Southridge chapter for seniors such as Naro, Meek, the Erikstrups, Reverman and Blair who helped make this Metro League rivalry into one of the state's best over the past three years. These powers ruled the conference and faced off against each other twice in the postseason, splitting the playoff decisions. Beaverton, after losing five times to Southridge over the past three years, exacted a measure of vengeance by sweeping the Skyhawks this season including the matchup that mattered most.

"We made each other better for sure over the years," Bergmann said. "I respect that team a lot. They have a great coaching staff. The girls are good kids and our girls are good kids."

Sydney Erikstrup had eight points, seven boards and two assists. Naro had six boards and three assists to go along with her eight points. Laura Erikstrup added seven boards and one block. Vinson and Hoff both finished with four points.

TIMES PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Beaverton senior post Sydney Erikstrup drives to the rim against Southridge in the 6A quarters.

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