Country Christian girls snag second at state
The Country Christian girls basketball team had quite a run this year, rolling to a 15-2 overall record and a berth in the 1A state championship game in Baker City June 24.
Unfortunately, that roll didn't end with a state championship as the Cougars fell to Crane by a 75-54 score. It was a game that turned on Crane's ability to turn the Country Christian game plan upside down.
"Game planning is important and these two teams have such contrasting styles," coach Russell Halverson said. "They are super quick, super skilled and not real big, while we are big and strong and like to work the ball in the paint. They have two kids that are decent and three studs. Our plan was to essentially leave those two alone and have our two defenders in the key to help pressure the other three."
While the plan made sense from a strategy standpoint, the two Crane players who were freed up upended that plan.
"Those two kids we left alone just stepped up big time," Halverson said. "Crane scored 36 points from the 3-point line and most of it was from kids who weren't their primary scorers."
And it's not like Country Christian wasn't putting the ball in the basket as well. The 54 points scored were 25-30 more than other teams had scored on Crane all year. But the Cougars found themselves trading three points for two too often and that allowed Crane to slowly roll away.
"I felt really good about what we were doing offensively," Halverson said. "We were pounding it in and scoring from the line, but when trading three-for-two, it's going to get away from you. I was surprised by two things – the way their auxiliary kids knocked down shots and that being a smaller team, they did a good job of getting in their and fighting for rebounds."
Annie Bafford led the Cougar offense with 23 points, while Elizabeth Grandle chipped in with 14.
With a state tournament trophy coming back from Baker City, Halverson is already looking to what's next. The Cougars lose two seniors and return most of their firepower for another run in the 2021-22 season.
"To only have two seniors and make a run at the title is pretty satisfying," Halverson said. "Annie (Bafford) and Lizzie (Grandle) both made the all-tournament team, so I'm excited for what we have coming back.
Country Christian 46, Powder Valley 43
To get to the championship game, the Cougars had to overcome some serious foul trouble, and a stubborn Powder Valley squad, to rattle off a 46-43 win June 23.
"I felt like we were better and outplayed them, but they were pretty quick and we started picking up fouls," Halverson said. "We were up 13 with about two-and-a-half minutes to go in the first half and all five of my starters had two fouls."
With one starter on the floor, Halverson turned to his bench and they hung on, giving Country Christian a seven point lead at the half.
"They had a really studly post, very athletic, and they would put pressure on us, but when we got past that pressure it was hard to maneuver around their big," Halverson said. "She had four or five really big blocks."
Fortunately, even as the Cougars were dealing with four trouble until the end – one starter would foul out and the other four had four fouls at the final buzzer – every Powder Valley run would be blunted by one of the Cougars making a key play. Bafford had multiple key moments like that on the way to 21 points, including ice-cold shooting at the line (11-for-12 overall). Halverson pointed to Lanie Barden as another who just seemed to pop up at key moments to help keep Powder Valley at bay.
"We were just managing foul trouble and that forced us to curb back our defense and that allowed Powder Valley easier shots," Halverson said. "In fact, they had a somewhat contested look – Annie did a good job of defending without fouling – from three at the end that missed."
Country Christian opened the 1A state tournament in Baker City on June 21 with a win overAdrian, 57-31.
Against Adrian, the Cougars got up big early and cruised to the win, leading 44-12 at the half.
"It was a good draw for us," Halverson said. "I was able to play my bench kids and give that starting core of kids some rest."
The Cougars have been a balanced squad this season with most of the scoring duties handled by Grandle and Bafford. While they've been the team's most consistent scorers, they haven't done it alone. McKenzie Syphard is averaging about 10 points a game off the bench and post Rylie Newton has been effective when teams try to stymie the team's guards.
Halverson said Newton is strong and has "fantastic footwork in the paint." But what has really been a big plus for Country Christian's run has been a pair of defensive stoppers – Madison Halverson and Lilly Begley off the bench.
"Maddie defends everyone's best player and she's been phenomenal doing that," Halverson said. "Lilly comes off the bench and does what Maddie does for us. It's just part of their basketball DNA now and man, can they defend and scrap for everything."
Country Christian 58, Livingstone Adventist 32
"It was a tale of two halves," is how coach Halverson describe the quarterfinal matchup with Livingstone on June 22.
The Cougars held only a five point (22-17) advantage after a low-scoring first half that saw them miss all nine of their three-point attempts and struggled with a little gimmick defense Livingstone tossed into the mix.
"They came out in a triangle-and-2 defense and face-guarded our two best offensive players," Halvorsen said. "That kind of stifled us a bit. Those nine shots we missed were great shots. But it (the defense) kind of took us out of the flow."
Fortunately, the Cougars got their groove back in the third quarter after a little halftime maintenance in the lockerroom.
"We settled everyone down at the half and I talked with our two best scorers and told them it (the gimmick defense) was a compliment, but they would have to work harder to get their opportunities within the flow of the offense," Halvorsen said. "We kept moving the ball around and in the third quarter had four different kids hit threes."
Halvorsen dropped one in, then Begley off the bench scorched the net, followed by another three from Lanie Bardon and the rout was on. Country Christian outscored Livingstone 27-7 in the third quarter. Halverson pointed to a flurry in the third that seemed to sum up the Cougars intensity and will to win.
McKenzie Syphand had six rebounds in two possessions, repeatedly battling for the offensive boards and giving the Cougars extra possessions – the final one ended up in a three-point play for Bafford.
"We had that run and then were able to play our bench players in the fourth which gives our core group some rest," Halvorsen said. "Four games in four days is a lot, so getting them some rest is a good thing. And our bench players played the best I've seen this season. They battled and held their own in there and that was exciting to see."
Up next is a semifinal date June 23 with Powder Valley (8-5).
As for Powder Valley, Halvorsen said they have a "stud post" and are "one of the most balanced teams we've seen all season."
The Cougars finished the season 15-2 overall and captured The Valley 10 League title along the way
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.