Canby's playoff hopes dashed
In the tight confines of the Richard and Virginia Matthews gymnasium, Canby's final league game was a stern one and the atmosphere reflected it.
"We talked about the atmosphere beforehand because we knew it was going to be that way," Canby head coach Chuck Knight said. "We said, 'Have fun with that. Make the crowd noise get you pumped and excited.' I thought the kids did a great job of that."
Somewhere towards the end of the first half Canby put its head down and closed the deficit against St. Mary's. With about 20 seconds left in the half, freshman Joey Baguio made a jumping layup to close the gap to 21-18.
A wide open layup miss by St. Mary's junior Marley Johnson at the end of the half left a little more breathing room than should have been, but that's how it was. The half saw 21-18 for the home team.
Canby used the fast break to bridge the gap, slowly but surely, and answered deep baskets of St. Mary's with hoops of their own. After all, it was to keep playoff hopes alive.
A Nicole Michelson long ball tied it up at 23 two minutes into the half. Mickelson's assist to Odell under the hoop gave them the lead on the next possession, and St. Mary's couldn't buy a bucket in the first half of the third quarter.
Another Mickelson assist to junior Arika Evans sank third quarter three pointer to extend the lead to 28-23 with 3:43 to go in the quarter. An Evans' floater from the top of the key made it 30-23, the momentum clearly in Canby's favor.
"We definitely had a lot of big 3-pointers," Knight said. "Arika came off the bench and hit some, Nicole hit some. Joey hit one. That was big to get us in."
Flash forward a few minutes in the quarter. A St. Mary's junior Anna Eddy long ball got it to within two, and a quick steal and foul put Marley Johnson at the line where she dropped a pair of free throws to tie it at 30. Under double coverage, Canby's Evans drained a long basket to keep the lead with Canby. Mickelson added another deep ball to make the lead 36-30, and a quick steal in return kept St. Mary's from gaining momentum as the quarter ended.
In the opening of the fourth quarter, the long dagger became the Blues friend, closing the gap to just three points a minute and a half in to the quarter. Johnson drained a "3" off of a senior Mya Brazile screen, and the game was tied up at 36-36.
Joey Baguio battled her way to the free throw line, and dropped one of two attempts, keeping a slight edge with the visiting Cougars, 37-36.
St. Mary's, sensing the urgency of the situation, challenged every inbound, tried to put a hand in every pass. While it didn't pay off right away, it paid dividends eventually.
Junior Naarai Gomez nailed a pair of free throws to make it a three point game 39-36 with 3:15 left in the game.
The next St. Mary's possession saw the momentum swing away from Canby in what would ultimately be the nails in the coffin.
St. Mary's Brazile moved the ball up the court, put on the spin move against the Canby defender, and nailed the basket to bring it within one. Right away Brazile got the steal on the inbound, nailed the basket, and converted on the and-one play to make it 41-39 with less than three minutes to go. The home team crowd exploded, the sound deafening.
"Give some credit to Brazile, she's really quick and tough defensively, and she got a few steals that were pretty crucial," Knight said. "But our kids battled and played a great game."
That's not to say Canby went quietly into that good night. The Cougars still battled to the charity stripe, but after Mickelson missed the first of her two attempts with 1:03 to go, it seemed like quite the hill to climb. Canby coach Chuck Knight called a timeout to talk late strategy with the squad, and with a deficit of 46-39, the team came out on fire.
Though Mickelson missed her free throws, a quick take away gave the ball to Baguio who hit a fast layup. 46-41 with 54 seconds to go.
Gomez got to the line and dropped a pair of free throws, the deficit cut to 47-43. Twenty four seconds later the game ended 48-43. And that was that. Back and forth heartbreak for the road team, elation for the home team. Canby's season had ended, and while it was a disappointing ending, Knight was proud of the progress his young squad had made.
"I think the way we finished the last 10 games of the year, we showed that we can win games in a tough league and compete with really good teams," Knight said. "We've got a really good, young nucleus coming back. I think it sets up nicely next year."
"I think our kids feel great about our team and what we accomplished after the start we got off to," Knight continued. "We had that nine game losing streak, but they never even blinked. They kept working, playing hard, and I think we can say we're going into next season feeling pretty good about ourselves. Hopefully we get a great summer with good players."
Part of the team's strong finish? Really adjusting to the roles they inhabited, becoming comfortable on the court, and buying in to the process.
"I think as a team we improved by buying into what we're doing and believing," Knight said. "We started to figure out our roles a little bit better. When you lose the seniors we lost last year, and you've got your kids that step into that role, the Nicoles, Ally's, and Naarai's, that's an adjustment for them. They've played varsity minutes, but they took on a role that they weren't used to, and then you get other kids who haven't stepped on a varsity floor. It takes time to grow into those roles and get comfortable with what you're doing"