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Country Christian's girls basketball team overcame Damascus Christian in rubber match to claim title

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Country Christian's McKenzie Syphard looks for the pass from senior Sarah Phillips.
PORTLAND — The Country Christian girls basketball team overcame an early nine-point deficit to run away from Damascus Christian 51-37 in the Valley 10 championship game Thursday at Multnomah University.

The Eagles got out to a hot start with Emily Powers driving the baseline to put a shot off the glass for a three-point play, while teammate Noelle Wakefield hit a long ball from the left side for three more and an early 10-2 Damascus lead.

The Eagles grabbed their biggest lead of the night at 16-7 when Wakefield inbounded from under her own basket, finding Powers cutting wide-open through the lane for an easy two.

"We were hitting shots early, but then we went through long stretches where we just couldn't score," Damascus coach Dave Wakefield said.

In fact, the Eagles total over the next two quarters wouldn't match their hot start.

Country closed it to a one-possession game when senior Sarah Phillips drove into traffic and fired a high pass through a sea of arms that found teammate McKenzie Syphard for an easy two across the lane.

"It was more of a mental game, just keeping it positive and continuing to hustle. We never stopped working," said Phillips, who would be announced as the league Most Valuable Player at the end of the night.

Rookie Lizzy Grandle would convert an underhand scoop shot for a three-point play. Katie Sandberg missed a 3-pointer, but followed her shot and put it back up over the side of the rim to give the Cougars their first lead 25-23 with less than a minute remaining in the first half.

They would never trail again.

"Coach (Russell Halverson) is always telling us to go until they stop you, so whenever I saw an open lane I was going to try and get to the basket," Grandle said.

Damascus Christian scored on its first possession of the second half on a put-back bucket by center Tory Webb to tie the score.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Country Christian senior Sarah Phillips drives past the Damascus Christian defense. 
But Country answered with Grandle hitting a 3-pointer, Sandberg swishing a right-side jumper and Phillips picking off a pass and taking it the distance.

Three made baskets in three trips, and the Cougars were in charge 32-25.

Later in the quarter, the Cougars ran an inbounds play in which coach Halerson shouts a name and that player pops to the top of the arc for a catch-and-shoot 3. Allison Burruel and Grandle each swished open looks off that play, while Grandle drove the lane and kicked a pass out to Phillips for another long ball that put the lead to 15 points late in the third.

"We were up two at halftime, then we looked up in the third quarter and it was up to 15," Sandberg said. "A lot happened very quickly, and we just ran with it. We are a team that knows how to end games."

Powers swiped a steal and got to the hoop for a careful finish ahead of a Country defender to bring the Eagles within 10 points, as the clock slipped under five minutes, but that was as close as Damascus would get.

Sandberg applied the finishing touch with an up-and-under move that put the Cougars on top 48-35 as the clock moved under three minutes.

As Valley 10 champs, No. 6-ranked Country earns a first-round bye and will start its playoff run at home on Saturday.

"This means a lot," Phillips said of the league title. "I love this sport and have put a lot of time into it, so it's nice to see that rewarded."

Damascus (23-3) hosts Willamette Valley Christian (14-8) in the first round of the 1A playoffs at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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