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The Gladiators close out the first half of the league play on a high note, climbing into a three-way tie with Madras and Molalla for second

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Gladstone's Hanne Hopkins (13) pushes the ball into the front court under pressure from Molalla's Zoe Wood (24) during the second half of Tuesday's Tri-Valley Conference girls basketball game.The Gladstone Gladiators took a step forward Tuesday night in the race for one of the Tri-Valley Conference's two automatic berths into the OSAA Class 4A girls basketball playoffs.

And the Molalla Indians took a step back.

Alex Deveny scored a game-high 13 points off the Gladstone bench, and Jade Rowley added 12 points, leading the Gladiators to a 56-47 road win over the Indians at Capasso Court.

Hanne Hopkins also scored in double figures with 10 points for the Gladiators (9-9, 3-2 Tri-Valley), who snapped a two-game skid and climbed into a three-way tie with Madras and Molalla for second place at the halfway point of the league season.

"I feel as if that was one of the best games we've played in a while," said Rowley, the Gladiators' junior post. "We came into it knowing it was going to be a tough game and it feels really good to get a win here."

Molalla's Zoe Wood finished with a team-high 14 points and was the only player to score in double figures for the Indians (11-8, 3-2), who had their four-game winning streak snapped.

"We never seemed to be us tonight," Indians coach Phil Wiesner said. "The girls and I talked about how we almost needed to reintroduce ourselves to each other, which isn't us.

"Generally, we're very cohesive and really work the game together, and it didn't have that feel tonight."

Molalla briefly led 7-5 midway through the first quarter, but Gladstone closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 12-7 lead and the Gladiators played from in front the rest of the way.

After Wood hit a deep 3-pointer from the right wing to cut Gladstone's lead to 21-19 with 3:36 to play in the second quarter, the Gladiators closed the half with a 5-0 burst to take a 26-19 lead at the break.

Closing time

The Indians again crept within two points, 32-30, when Wood scored on lay-up with 1:07 remaining in the third quarter, but that was as close as they could get in the second half.

Leading 35-30 to open the fourth quarter, the Gladiators went on a 14-8 run that ended with Rowley knocking down two free throws to push the lead to 49-38 and all but put the game out of reach with 2:15 to play.

"The keys tonight were definitely our defense and our communication," Rowley said. "We haven't always talked as well on defense as we did tonight. We were definitely loud and our bench was loud and that carried onto the court."

Added Gladstone coach Glenn Hopkins: "It felt as if we controlled the tempo and it helped jumping out to a lead and then keeping the lead. We've never really shot the ball well here since I've been coach, and I don't know if it's the depth of the end lines, but ... we did OK tonight."

Molalla was playing its third game without senior Maddy Lisac, the team's leading scorer and No. 2 rebounder who went down with a dislocated left elbow in the Indians' non-conference win at Country Christian on Jan. 25.

"Even though Maddy was here on the bench with us, we missed some of her senior leadership out there on the court tonight," Wiesner said. "We have one senior, Audri Greer, out there now and it's nice to have that, but we're relatively young in a lot of places."

The Gladiators, coming off Friday's 47-44 loss against league-leading North Marion, walked away from Tuesday's win convinced that they have things pointed in the right direction.

"We were hungry for a win, definitely, because North Marion was a tough loss, especially losing by only three," Rowley said. "But losing by three to them just gave us so much confidence coming into this game, and the way we played here really showed how much we've improved this season."

Playoff picture

The top two teams from each of the state's six Class 4A leagues earn automatic berths into the state playoffs, while the next best eight teams based on OSAA power rankings advance to the play-in round to decide the final four spots in the 4A's 16-team bracket.

With five games left in the regular season, North Marion has a two-game lead over the rest of the field and appears to have a virtual lock on the league's No. 1 playoff seed, leaving Gladstone, Madras, and Molalla to duke it out for the other automatic postseason berth.

Regardless of how the race for second plays out, the good news is that the two teams that finish third and fourth should end up with power rankings that will be high enough to qualify for the play-in round.

"It's nice that we're still in contention for a top-two finish," Gladiators coach Glenn Hopkins said. "If it ended right now, our power ranking (No. 17) is high enough where we would get it. But it helps to be in a situation where we can go out there and still battle, knowing we have a chance to at least finish second."

Gladstone still has to go to Madras for a game on Feb. 18, but then the Gladiators close out the regular season with home games on Feb. 21 against North Marion and Feb. 24 against Molalla.

"I don't think we've peaked yet," Glenn Hopkins said. "I think we're getting better still and I think with having as many young players as we have on our roster, every game they play, they're gaining confidence and valuable experience."

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