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The visiting Spartans improve to 5-3 in conference, while the host Lions drop to 1-7.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hilhi's Jonette Singh and St. Helens' Sarah Robinson battle for rebounding position during their game Thursday night, Feb. 3, at the St. Helens Middle School.The Hillsboro girls basketball team is moving along nicely, but it has struggled at times as well.

However, it was hard to find much fault in the Spartans' performance in a 57-34 win over St. Helens Thursday night, Feb. 3, at St. Helens Middle School.

"I felt we played pretty good," Hillsboro head coach Sara Harsin said. "We still have some areas to improve, but we'll keep working."

The game versus the Lions was essentially over not long after it got started.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Isabel Tapley fights-off the St. Helens defense during the Spartans' game with the Lions Thursday night, Feb. 3, at the St. Helens Middle School.The Spartans scored the game's first 12 points and led 19-3 after a quarter, thanks in large part to a swarming defense and a group scoring effort that saw Hilhi get points from five different Spartan players.

Harsin spoke to the wealth of scoring after the game and said it's something they've been working and improving upon over the season's past couple of months.

"We have become a more balanced scoring team," she said. "I'm happy with our progress and the work the kids have put in."

Meanwhile, it was a frustrating night for St. Helens coach Kyle Brayton, who said he and his staff were puzzled by their team's play.

"When we played Hillsboro earlier this season, we lost by four points, and we had many players out with COVID or injury," Brayton said. "For this matchup, we had a nearly full team and were at home, so my mind is still boggled by our performance."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - St. Helens' Bella Meuchel goes up for a lay-in during the Lions' game with Hillsboro Thursday night, Feb. 3, at the St. Helens Middle School.Brayton lamented that the Lady Lions fell behind early, although he said the team put in the work to be prepared to go from the tip. That has been a recurring issue, he acknowledged.

"We had a good week of practice leading up to the game, but the first quarter killed us," he said. "This happens pretty much every game, no matter what game plan the coaching staff puts in place. We dig ourselves a hole early through turnovers and bad defense, then have to climb out of it for the next three quarters."

Hillsboro's Isabel Tapley led the game in scoring, tallying 13 points, while Jonette Singh scored 12 and Margaret Shively added 10.

Freshman Braxtyn Ellsworth was also a key contributor, scoring nine points while leading the team with eight rebounds — something Coach Harsin has been getting accustomed to.

"Braxtyn just keeps getting better every time she steps on the court," the Hillsboro coach said. "The kid loves to compete and loves to work hard.  She is a super-coachable kid, and anything we tell her, she takes to the court and implements. She asks questions and wants to learn."

The second half was more of the same for the Spartans, who continued to score both inside and out, but St. Helens seemed to get a second wind over the final two quarters, even putting 18 points on the board in the fourth quarter.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Braxtyn Ellsworth works to get a shot up during the Spartans' game with the Lions Thursday night, Feb. 3, at the St. Helens Middle School. Brayton said the Lions' output over the final eight minutes showed what they're capable of on a given night. It's that type of performance that reinforces his belief that they're capable of competing with nearly any team in the Northwest Oregon Conference.

But he also knows that if the Lions are going to do that, they're going to have to do it on a more consistent basis — something he just hasn't seen of late.

"Our coaches have preached a growth mindset for this back half of the season," the St. Helens coach said. "We want to see our players improve, as well as get better outcomes in our games now that we're seeing our NWOC opponents for a second time this season. Unfortunately, this game was not an example of any growth, but rather a backpedal in the wrong direction."

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