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Emmaly Welch hit two free throws with 0.3 seconds to play Tuesday, lifing the Pioneers to a crucial road win over the rival Lions

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Oregon City's Emmaly Welch (33) stands her ground as West Linn's Aaronette Vonleh (21) drives the lane during the first half of Tuesday's Three Rivers League girls basketball game at West Linn.Oregon City's Emmaly Welch was understandably nervous when she stepped to the free-throw line Tuesday night with the game tied and 0.3 seconds on the clock at West Linn High School.

She also was looking at a shot that she knew she could make.

Welch knocked down both free throws — one swish, two swish — as the No. 8 Pioneers pulled out a hard-fought 48-46 Three Rivers League road win and snapped the No. 3 Lions' six-game winning streak.

"It was a lot of emotions and kind of unbelievable when I got fouled at the end," Welch said. "We shoot free throws every day in practice and I was very confident in myself that I could make them.

"They were easy."

Welch's final two free throws punctuated a stellar performance at both ends of the court for Oregon City's 5-foot-11 junior post, who not only finished with a team-high 16 points, but also played some outstanding to help make sure that West Linn's 6-3 junior Aaronette Vonleh didn't take over the game.

Vonleh led all scorers with 19 points, including the basket that tied the score at 46-46 with 35 seconds left, but she didn't touch the ball on the low post as much as West Linn would have liked.

There were times when the Lions were determined to get the ball to Vonleh on the low post, but she never touched it because Welch intercepted the pass, Welch deflected the pass, or the pass went over both Welch and Vonleh and sailed out of bounds for a turnover.

"Matching up with Aaronette is not easy, especially when you're giving away four inches, but Emmaly was awesome," Pioneers coach Tiffani Traver said. "She did a really great job of just not getting in her own head.

"Sometimes she struggles with that, she just want to battle so hard, but she just kept doing what we asked her to do, she kept fronting Aaronette, and she got plenty of backside help and it worked out perfectly."

Balance of power

Oregon City's win, coupled with St. Mary's Academy's 53-44 win over Lakeridge on Tuesday, left St. Mary's Academy (13-3, 5-0 Three Rivers) alone in first place, while West Linn (10-5, 4-1) dropped to second and the Pioneers (11-4, 3-2) took over sole possession third place, one game ahead of Canby, Lakeridge, Tigard, and Tualatin.

"Going into the game, we knew Oregon City was going to be a really good team," Lions' guard Cami Fulcher said. "We just didn't execute when it came to getting Aaronette the ball like we should have.

"It came down to Oregon City playing some good defense and we kind of got chaotic and had a bunch of turnovers. I wasn't expecting that ending, but Oregon City played well and we just didn't get the win."

West Linn's first loss league play may have been a tough one for the Lions' to swallow, but there was also a lesson learned, according to Fulcher.

"We're not unbeatable," she said. "There's a ton of talk about our team, but that doesn't mean we can just go out and beat anybody. We have to go into every, single game think, 'This is the next big team.'"

The game featured nine ties and four lead changes, and the largest lead for either team after the first quarter was four points for the Pioneers, who led 26-22 with Tyra Bradford converted a three-point play to close out the first-half scoring.

Oregon City extended its lead to 43-38 when Mia Martineau knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:39 to play in the fourth quarter, but Vonleh answered with a three-point play that made it 43-41 with 3:22 left.

After a Pioneers' turnover, Audrey Roden made one of two free throws that pulled West Linn within a point, and then Vonleh scored off another turnover to give the Lions a 44-43 lead with 1:35 remaining.

Oregon City regained the lead when Anya Remsburg hit two free throws to make it 45-44 with 1:24 to play, and then Bradford got fouled after a West Linn turnover and made one of two free throws to extend the lead to 46-44 with 53 seconds left.

At the other end, Roden missed a 3-pointer, but Vonleh grabbed the rebound and scored to pull the Lions even at 46-46 with 35 seconds left.

Final possession

Oregon City played for a final shot, working the ball from Jalissa Lugo at the top of the 3-point arc, to Bradford on the right wing, to Katie Kathan cutting into the middle, to Welch under the basket where she was fouled by Roden as she went up with the ball.

The scoreboard clock showed 0:00 and West Linn argued that the foul occurred after time had expired, but the officials decided after a brief conversation to put three-tenths of a second back on the clock and send Welch to the line to shoot two free throws.

"Nothing like pressure, right?" Traver said. "But in the huddle, we knew it wasn't a win-or-lose situation, because even if she had missed both free throws, we still would have gone to overtime.

"So it was either we win the game or we play a few more minutes to decide a winner. For Emmaly to hit both … that was big."

Welch was the only Oregon City player to score in double figures, while Bradford finished with nine points, Lugo had seven, and Martineau added six.

"That was a really good team win," Bradford said. "We all worked really hard and we never gave up at the end. Emmaly did a great job on Vonleh. She held her ground, she blocked out, she hit some shots when we needed them, and … she did everything she could.

"That's a big win for us. Honestly, anybody can beat anybody at this point. It's just a matter of who's ready to work hard and who wants it the most, and tonight I think we did."

Roden finished with 10 points, Alana Molden had eight off the West Linn bench, and Campbell Sheffield, Payton Shelstad, and Fulcher added three points each.

"We never stopped," Fulcher said. "There was no problem with our effort, so that's one thing to take away from this game and say, 'Good job.' It's just our execution and running our plays that needs some work."

The rematch is Feb. 21 at Oregon City, which also happens to be Senior Night for the Pioneers.

"I feel we played great as a team tonight," Welch said. "I had a hard match-up going against Aaronette, but I feel like we both battled each other well and it was a great game.

"It was a big win, but we still have one more game against them and I'm sure that will be another great game."

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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