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Country Christian improves to 7-3 in non-league contests, and Colton drops 2 of its last 3

PIONEER PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Country Christian senior Sarah Phillips drives to the hoop in the Cougars 54-45 victory over neighboring Colton.
Country Christian and Colton High School have tangled in the past. The two teams met up in summer play, and while that is generally the extent of their meetings, they managed to meet up once again in non-league play.

Colton made the short journey to the Country Christian School and squared off with the 1A top 10 team. In the end, Country Christian walked away with the win after four hard fought quarters of play 54-45.

"They beat us up this summer," Country Christian coach Russ Halverson said. "They beat us by like 30. We were missing our point guard and they would have done that again tonight, and we need someone to control the ball a little bit. A lot of that was the transition, and I feel like we've improved in that category and developed our bench. I was excited about this matchup just to see. I told the girls that it would be a good measuring stick to see where we're at and what we are."

In the opening quarter, things were fairly even. The two teams traded baskets, with Country Christian gaining a slight advantage 11-9 at the first buzzer. Freshman McKenzie Syphard recorded three points in the quarter, including battling for a bucket in the paint.

Colton senior Becca Burge recorded four points of her own to keep the team within striking distance.

In the second quarter, Colton briefly tied up the affair at 13-13 thanks to baskets from Burge and junior Madie Beguelin. Shortly thereafter though, the Cougars went on an 11-4 run that put them up 24-15 in the waning minutes of the second quarter. Country Christian senior Sarah Phillips did a tremendous job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities in the paint and at the free-throw line, going 2-for-2 from the charity stripe and scoring consecutive 2-point baskets. By the end of the half, Colton trailed 28-17.PIONEER PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Country Christian freshman Lizzy Grandle goes up for the jumper against the smothering Colton defense.

"I think our team shined with out-rebounding them, transition, steals, and our team chemistry," Phillips said. "I think our girls have a chemistry and we know where each other will be going and I think we were smart with recognizing the pieces we had on the floor."

In the third quarter, Phillips got things started with a basket for the home team, and the Cougars went on a 10-5 run to stretch the lead to 38-22. Now down double digits, Colton needed to answer in a big way, and did.

The Lady Vikings went 2-for-2 from the free throw line thanks to senior Kaelie Gates, and recorded a pair of buckets from Beguelin and freshman Olivia Haines to close the deficit to just 10.

Country Christian's Phillips once again closed the stanza strong, making two more free throws and two more baskets. Phillips finished the game with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 1 steal. To end the quarter, Country Christian led 44-31.

In the final frame, Country started things well yet again with a pair of baskets from freshman Lizzy Grandle. However, Colton put together a prolonged run of success. The Lady Vikings went 4-of-6 from the free throw line in that time, and had four consecutive baskets from different athletes (senior Maddie Travis, Gates, Beguelin, and senior Jenelle Baker). Now, the lead stood at just 48-41 for the home team.

For Colton coach Kyle Gilstad, the late comeback helped reinforce a sense of optimism he has toward his team.

"I thought we needed to get something to get us rolling," Gilstad said. "Then we got some stops, got some free throws, and got it back within 7 points. I never thought we were completely out of it. I'm optimistic; I always think our girls have it in them to pull it out in the very last minute."

But Colton was unable to sustain that success, and that was as close as the Lady Vikings would get towards victory late in the game.

"We get really hot towards the end of the game," Gates said. "If we played like we did the last four minutes of the fourth quarter all game, then I guarantee that we would be sweeping teams. Not to say that Country isn't good, but even in our league, there's games we're losing that we shouldn't be. We just need to work on our consistency and our urgency."

Country Christian senior Katie Sandberg started a string of scoring late in the game, followed by Grandle who went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line, and Phillips who recorded her final basket of the game. Colton notched four more points, but when the game ended it was Country Christian 54, Colton 45.

PIONEER PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Colton senior Kaelie Gates shoots the fadeaway jumper over Country Christian defenders.
For Colton, there were several players who had strong showings. Gates had 12, Baker had 6 points, Travis had 7 points, Beguelin had 6 points, and Madi Olsen had 5 points.

"Honestly, they might be lower but I feel like Country has been good," Gilstad said. "They won two out of the last three years at 1A. They've got a good group of girls; they know what they're doing. We came in knowing it was going to be a tough one, and it didn't disappoint."

For Country Christian, Phillips obviously had the strong performance, but there were others who put up impressive numbers. Grandle had 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Senior Kendall Halverson had 8 assists, 5 points, and 6 rebounds.

This is not the first time that Country Christian has tangled with teams outside of the 1A classification. In the season opener the Cougars punched up in weight taking on 4A Molalla, ultimately losing 63-21. It also will not be the last time Country takes on a larger team, as they are set to tangle with the 4A Valley Catholic team on Friday, Feb. 1.

"The end of our schedule is brutal," Halverson said. "We kind of knew that coming in, and this is the first one and we're happy with it. We lost to Damascus, but we got this one. Valley Catholic, St. Paul, Perrydale, and Southwest are all losable games. Our kids are going to have dial it in."

Country Christian continued its winning ways by dominating Portland Waldorf 54-14 on Thursday, Jan. 24, and besting Southwest Christian for a second time 48-29 on Friday, Jan. 25.

In the Southwest Christian game, Phillips and Grandle each had 13 points. Phillips also had 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 assists. Grandle had 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Country Christian (16-4) will tangle with St. Stephens Academy (4-9) on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Since that encounter, Colton faced similar hardships, dropping consecutive contests to Kennedy and Santiam. The Lady Vikings (7-13) will have the chance to turn it around against Western Christian (9-10) on Monday, Jan. 28 after the Pioneer goes to press.

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