Spartans come up one game short of the state tournament with a loss to third-ranked St. Mary's

PORTLAND — The third quarter was the difference in this one.

After playing St. Mary’s Academy tight in the first half of last Friday’s Class 6A second-round state playoff game, the Hillsboro girls basketball team watched the Blues open up the third quarter on a 12-4 run to create some breathing distance at Richard and Virginia Mathews Gymnasium.

And while the Spartans valiantly rallied to cut their deficit to six points with about 90 seconds to play, ultimately they could not coax enough shots to fall in a 49-40 defeat to third-ranked St. Mary’s. The 14th seed, Hilhi finished the season with a 19-8 record — an improvement of eight wins over last HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro freshman Makenna Gambee drives to the basket during last Friday's Class 6A state playoff game against St. Mary's Academy.

The Blues picked up their 19th victory in a row and advanced to state tournament for a fourth consecutive season. They opened with a quarterfinal game against No. 6 Westview on Wednesday evening at the Moda Center.

“We knew they were going to make a run,” Hilhi coach Sara Harsin said about that third-quarter surge. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to be as big of a run as it was, and I was hoping we were going to be able to push back a little bit more, but it didn’t happen.

“Our defense was decent, our defense was solid. They didn’t make a lot of first opportunity points, first chance points. They were getting a lot of offensive rebounds. They’re bigger, stronger. We need to box out better than what we did.”

That early second-half surge was fueled by St. Mary’s junior post Tyschal Blake, who set the tone with the first bucket of the third quarter and added four more points toward the end of the run on a score down low and an offensive rebound. By the time Martina McCowan turned a steal into a fast break basket with less than three minutes to play in the stanza, the Blues had turned a 19-15 halftime lead into a 31-19 advantage.

The Spartans’ deficit then hit 14 points in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, when Blake’s putback gave the home team a 36-22 lead. But Hilhi had staged prior late-game comebacks this season, and the team refused to go quietly against a longer, taller and very athletic St. Mary’s side.

Tarea Green, whose repertoire of skills was on full display all game long, cut the margin to within single digits at 40-32 with two free throws at the 3:38 mark. And then she sank back-to-back 3-pointers about 20 seconds apart inside the two-minute mark, drawing the Spartans to within 44-38.

In a game that had been primarily controlled by the Blues, that grip started to feel a tad tenuous, with the momentum swinging Hilhi’s way.

“We never give up. That’s the one thing, we never give up,” said Lauren Lykins, who contributed five points, six rebounds and a game-high nine assists in her final high school contest. “(Tarea), clutch threes — oh my gosh.”

But the Blues withstood the Spartans’ pressure, sank three of their next four free throw attempts, and closed the game on a 5-2 run that cemented the conclusion of Hilhi’s season.

Green led all scorers with 25 points and she added 11 rebounds and three blocks. Cheyanne Seeley added four points, four rebounds and two assists.

For St. Mary’s, Blake scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half and had a game-high 13 rebounds, and Tasia Bilbrew also was in double figures with 10 points. Bendu Yeaney and Cece Wooten added nine points apiece.

After the game, Harsin was pleased with her team’s overall execution, but she did note some areas that would have helped her squad’s cause, particularly free throws. The Spartans struggled from the charity stripe, going just 6-for-16.

“A couple free throws here, a couple free throws there, it’s an entirely different ball game,” she noted.

The visitors also lost the battle of the boards, especially on the offensive glass, which translated to nine second-chance points for the Blues. St. Mary’s picked up 42 rebounds to Hilhi’s 36 and had a 15-8 edge in offensive rebounds.

And yet the Spartans were just so close at the end, with just that pesky third quarter getting in the way.

“It was great. We all played really hard, and I’m really proud of us,” Green said. “We stayed in it and we never gave up.”

Along with Lykins, the loss pulled the curtain on the high school careers of Anna Mathisen, Marley Dizney Swanson and Nickie Cook.

Though those girls are graduating, the future looks bright for the Spartans, who move to the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference next school year with several key returners in tow.

This year’s group started the season 10-0, finished at 7-7 in a competitive Pacific Conference and won a playoff game, the program’s first since the 2009 season.

“It was a special group of kids,” Harsin said. “It was a special, fun, amazing first year. We’re going to miss that group of seniors.”

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