The Braves' Jessi Wren gets a last minute basket in their 57-55 win over the Valiants.

STAFF PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Mary Merritt and Maddy Shook battle for rebounding position during the Braves' game against Valley Catholic Feb. 6 at Valley Catholic High School.Despite being 19-2, undefeated in conference play, and No. 3-ranked in the OSAA 4A rankings, it's been a tough go of it lately for the Banks Braves girls basketball team. After their Feb. 3 home loss to 3A Dayton, the Braves — minus five varsity players — limped into their Feb. 6 game at Valley Catholic not knowing what to expect against the second place Valiants. What they got was a gutty 57-55 comeback win against a team itchin' for a crack at the wounded and vulnerable Banks squad.

"That game was kind of our season in a nutshell," said Banks head coach Brandon Begley. "We went through so much in the course of that game, but the girls just kind of stayed with it and went through the process and made some plays at the end. I'm just proud of the girls how they stuck together and stepped up."

Trailing by as many as nine in the second half, the undermanned Braves cobbled together points the old fashioned way, through defense and rebounding before a Jessi Wren basket in the final minute provided Banks with the game-winning basket.

"I think the girls got more comfortable and a little more used to their new roles over the last couple days of practice," said Begley. "We talked before the game about believing in one another and coming together. When you do that you can accomplish great things, and they were able to do that tonight."

Valley's standout point guard Noelle Mannen had an opportunity to tie the game from the free throw line with 4.5 seconds remaining, but after missing her first attempt wide, she missed her second try on purpose, Banks grabbed the rebound, essentially ended the game and celebrated an impressive victory few — including myself — saw coming.

"We came in ready to go, knowing it was a tough place to play," said Banks' junior post Gracie Nelson. "Valley is an awesome place to play, but tonight we brought a little more energy than they did. It was a great win."

Banks built a six point first quarter lead with scoring from six different Braves. In the second quarter, Valley hit from everywhere en route to six three-pointers.

The Valiants opened the quarter with a basket from junior forward Sarah Jones, but the Braves answered that with a basket of their own to make the score 20-14. That's when things got crazy, starting with a Katelyn Snook three to cut the lead in half.

Valley tied the game, then took the lead on a three-pointer and a subsequent and-one from junior guard Callie Kawaguchi. After a Nelson bucket made it 23-22, Kawaguchi completed a rare four-point play, Snook followed that with another trey, then two points later Mannen banked-in a three at the buzzer to give the Valiants a 35-28 lead at the half.

STAFF PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks wing Rylie Kind takes a shot during the Braves' game against Valley Catholic Feb. 6 at Valley Catholic High School."They got on a roll in that second quarter," said Begley. "We switched up our defense in the second half and the girls came out and played hard."

That they did.

Mannen immediately gave Valley a nine point lead to open the third quarter, but from there the Braves got six straight from Nelson and Wren, then following a Jones free throw that made the score 38-34, Banks got back-to-back threes from senior Kim Jordan to give the Braves their first lead since the early minutes of the second quarter.

Valley retook the lead to start the fourth quarter, and toggled between a two and four point edge until Nelson tied it 53-53 with inside of three minutes to play. Then Banks' freshman wing Maddy Shook gave the Braves a lead with a baseline floater with just under two minutes remaining, before Mannen again tied it with a 10-footer of her own, setting-up Wren's game-winner with 32.4 seconds on the clock.

And what was Nelson thinking as the game was coming to a close and the Braves were seconds away from a somewhat unexpected win?

"Take care of the ball," she said with a smile. "We didn't want a mistake to get in the way of a win and a shot at a league title, so we were focused and ready to fight for any rebound or loose ball."

And that focus and determination has Banks a win away from virtually sealing-up the Cowapa League title, and excited about what's to come for a Braves squad forging a new identity.

"It feels great," Nelson said. "We have a lot of underclassmen that are stepping into bigger roles and their doing it with a lot of 'bravery.'"

Well put.

Banks was led by Nelson's 13 points, while Wren added 11 points with 10 rebounds.

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