The La Salle Prep Falcons put another girls basketball game in the win column by making all the plays they needed to make in crunch time against the Hillsboro Spartans on Thursday night.
But it wasn't easy.
La Salle's Addi Wedin hit a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining to help lift the Falcons to a 54-50 Northwest Oregon Conference home win over the upset-minded Spartans.
Emily Niebergall finished with a team-high 17 points for the defending Class 5A state champion Falcons, who jumped out to a 31-18 halftime lead and then held off a determined Hillsboro comeback that saw the Spartans pull within a point, 45-44, with 5:27 to play.
Hillsboro's Kylie Fernstrom scored a game-high 19 points with six 3-pointers, including two long-range shots in the second half that lifted the Spartans within a point — one that made it 37-36 with 2:37 to play in the third quarter, and another that made it 45-44 with 5:27 left in the fourth.
Fernstrom also converted a four-point play that cut La Salle's lead to 51-48 with 3:38 remaining, but at that point the Spartans (9-7, 3-3) were forced to foul and never got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead.
"That was probably the most fun I've ever had playing in a game," said Fernstrom, the Spartans' senior guard. "We came out confident as a team, we played relaxed, we played our game, and I think we did our best."
With the game on the line, the Falcons (14-3, 5-1 NWOC) used two baskets by Amanda Sisul and another by Rhyan Mogel to key a 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 51-44 and help put the game out of reach with 3:40 remaining.
"I'm glad we won," said Niebergall, who scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half. "Hillsboro always gives us a good game. They just don't give up.
"You give Hillsboro room to shoot, they can shoot the ball, and I honestly think that they could make it to Gill Coliseum (for the 5A state tournament). They're a really, really good basketball team."
For the most part, the Spartans did almost everything they wanted to do defensively, holding the Wedin sisters — Addi the junior, and Ella the freshman — to a combined 13 points on 3-for-19 shooting from the field, including 3-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.
At the other end, Hillsboro shot 44 percent (11 for 25) from beyond the arc, with Fernstrom knocking down six 3-pointers, Margaret Shively hitting four, and Dylan Kem chipping in one.
Despite La Salle's poor shooting from long range, the Falcons had a 28-23 edge in rebounds, including 14-2 advantage in offensive rebounds, which translated into an 18-0 advantage in second-chance points.
The key stretch that help put the game out of reach for the Falcons included a Sisul basket off an offensive rebound that made it 47-44, a Sisul lay-up off an assist from Mogel that made it 49-44, and a Mogel basket off an offensive rebound that pushed the lead to 51-44 with 3:50 to play.
Fernstrom's four-point play with 3:38 to play kept the drama alive, and La Salle left the door open by going 3 for 8 at the free-throw line in the final 1:11, but the Spartans had run out of big plays by that point.
Despite the loss, Hillsboro head coach Sara Harsin was — almost — all smiles after the game.
"Oh, man, that was a blast. Are you kidding me?" Harsin said. "All you can do as a coach is ask your kids to go out and do what you ask them to do and we were in a position to win. We were flat out in a position to win.
"I loved the effort. I loved the energy. There was no giving up. We played only six kids, but at the same time, it was a good 'team' effort."
Shively finished with 14 points and Rian Porter added 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists, one blocked shot, and a steal for the Spartans, who shot 51.4 percent (19 for 37) from the field to La Salle's 33.3 percent (16 for 48).
"Everybody was in it," Harsin said. "Am I happy about the end result? No. Do I wish we wold have pulled that one out? Yes. But with that being said, I hope that gave our kids the confidence to know that they have the ability to play at this level.
"I don't think in the seven seasons we've been playing against La Salle that I've ever made them stall and pull the ball back out. That was major. Granted, we still want to get better so we can give them another good showing and … who knows? We had 'em, though. I thought we had 'em. We gave 'em good run."
Sisul finished with 10 points, four rebounds, and five assists for La Salle, while Mia Skoro had eight points, and Addi Wedin added seven points and six rebounds.
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