The first meeting between Colton and Gervais was a battle of not just two of the top teams in the Tri-River Conference (TRC), but a battle of two of the best girls basketball teams in the state at 2A.
Both teams were evenly matched and played similar styles of aggressive, gritty defense. With a 12-12 score at half and a 28-28 score at the end of regulation, both teams were searching for that difference maker that would put them over the top. In the end it was Gervais that triumphed 43-31 in overtime.
The difference? The shooting of Gervais junior wing Ava Sellers late in the game.
Sellers hit a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to give the Cougars the lead 26-25. Gervais hadn't led for most of the game but had kept Colton's offense in check to avoid falling too far behind. That paved the way for Sellers' go-ahead bucket, as well as a pair of made free throws in the final seconds to give Gervais a 28-25 lead.
Colton wouldn't go down without a fight, though, as senior Olivia Haines-Hooker hit a shot as the buzzer sounded on regulation to tie things up 28-28.
The first two buckets to fall in the four-minute overtime period belonged to Sellers, who drained a pair of 3-point buckets to put Gervais up 34-28. After her third made long distance shot, Sellers glanced over to her bench with a smile.
"After I hit the three in regulation, I knew I had gotten my stroke back and had no hesitation on the second three in OT," Sellers said. "After that, I went to the opposite side of the court where our bench was. (Coach Kyle) Buse told me that I had the green light to shoot. And I was like, 'really?' Then right after that I got the ball and I hit my third three."
The shooting is something Sellers has worked on in high school. While she didn't make any long-distance shots as a freshman, she's steadily improved on her pull-ups since transferring to Gervais as a sophomore.
Now, as a junior, she's hitting difference-makers against some of the best teams at 2A. Gervais girls basketball team is now owner of the No. 1 ranking in the state at 2A and rides an 11-game winning streak. That streak is tied for second longest active win streak regardless of school size with 4A Corbett (11-0) and 5A Willamette (11-0); 3A Willamina is 12-0.
The secret to that success? A wealth of talent on the roster.
"I think the biggest reason our team has been successful is because we don't rely on just one player," Sellers said. "You shut one of us down, then the others will pick up the slack. And that is exactly what has happened these past couple of games with people out."
The win over Colton was preempted by game cancellations and limited player availability at practice. On Monday, Jan. 10 Gervais practiced with just five people; on Tuesday, just nine. Gervais was without five of its roster against Colton, adding another layer of difficulty to an already onerous foe.
"It was hard," Gervais head coach Kyle Buse said. "We had five people at practice on Monday, nine yesterday. We were struggling. We got hit a little bit with the COVID, so we were having to cancel some activities and cut back on practices and stuff like that. It was definitely irritating coming into a team like Colton who we knew was going to give us a battle."
Yet ultimately, Gervais persevered. Sellers stepped up big in the clutch, as did senior guard Salma Villegas. Villegas was scoreless throughout regulation but went 5-of-8 from the free throw line in overtime to help seal the victory for the Cougars.
Sellers finished the night 16 points, followed by sophomore Olivia Boyd with 15 points and Villegas with five.
Gervais (12-2, 4-0 in TRC) is firmly planted in the No. 1 spot in the 2A rankings with an impressive trail of victories in its wake. According to Buse, though, the team can still get better.
"I'd like to say that we're not playing our best basketball right now, we're missing some pieces and people are stepping up," Buse said. "I think like you saw with Ava tonight, she really raised her game. You have people like Salma picking up that leadership. It's good to be here in January and not saying that we're playing our best basketball yet. I think we have a couple more steps to get through. I'll say that in March."
When asked if the team was the very best in the state at 2A, Sellers deferred to the team's record.
"I will let our play speak for itself," Sellers said. "I believe we have shown that we are one of the top teams in the state throughout the season. We had some losses early on but we bounced back from them and that's what good teams do. And we have gotten league wins without some key players."
Gervais' next opponent is Western Christian (8-4, 3-1 in TRC) on Friday, Jan. 14.
Colton comes up short
The Vikings knew visiting Gervais was going to be a stiff test. The Cougars had won 10 straight, but according to Colton head coach Valerie Wakefield, the team was ready for the challenge.
"I think we knew coming into it that it was going to be just a dogfight all night long," Wakefield said. "There's nothing different than what we expected. Regardless of whether we're No. 1 or No. 2, it was two of the top 2A teams for sure."
A dogfight it was. Colton held the visiting team to just 12 points during the first half, and Gervais returned the favor. And while the game was a defensive masterpiece, with Gervais and Colton both shooting below 30 percent from the field, it was largely a game controlled by the Vikings.
Coming out of the second half, Colton scored five points right off bat, including a 3-pointer from Olivia Haines-Hooker to put the lead to 17-12. Gervais answered with buckets of its own, but a basket from sophomore Kori Roberts gave Colton the edge 21-19 at the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter both teams battled to the free throw line. Colton got free throws from sophomore Izzy English and junior Dani Terry, as well as a pair from Haines-Hooker, but collectively went just 4-of-10 from the free throw line in the quarter.
When Gervais went up 28-25 in the final seconds of regulation, Colton got the ball into the hands of Haines-Hooker, who drilled the buzzer beating 3-pointer to send it into overtime.
"I didn't have any timeouts to call or anything, and I knew the girls knew what needed to happen," Wakefield said. "We needed a three, and we were just saying that as soon as Olivia caught the ball, all of us said, 'This game is going to overtime.' To see her release it with that confidence just knowing that she knew that shot was going in. All of us knowing that shot was going in. It was just really awesome to see, and obviously a super fun moment when you get to hit a shot like that to send your team to overtime."
Headed into the fifth and final stanza tied 28-28, Colton only made one bucket from the floor: an and-one opportunity from Terry. While her team lost, Wakefield is looking forward to testing her team against Gervais in the second half of the league season.
"We'll make a few adjustments the second time around, and kind of learn from that," Wakefield said. "I think it's still a confidence builder. We know Gervais is at the top of 2A, and the final score ended up being a 10-point game or whatever, but whenever you send the game into overtime you're right there, neck and neck. For one, it's a confidence builder for us. Then two, learning little things we need to get better from. There were some little things tonight that had we done differently, the result might have been different."
Haines-Hooker finished with 15 points and nine rebounds; Terry finished with eight points and 11 rebounds; English had eight points; and junior Avery Reiland had eight boards and three steals.
Colton (7-3, 2-2 in TRC) is scheduled to face off against Culver (2-9, 0-3 in TRC) on Friday, Jan. 14.
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.