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Country Christian hoopers wade through quality 1A field to claim third-place hardware at state

Surveying the aftermath of the third-place trophy his Country Christian girls basketball team had just earned at the State 1A Girls Basketball Tournament in Baker City, head coach Russell Halverson could only marvel at his team and the tournament as a whole. The Cougars earned the third-place hardware with a hard-fought 60-53 win over North Douglas Saturday, March 5, ending a successful run through a 1A tournament that Halverson said had more quality than he's seen in a decade. "I thought we had a chance at a title this year, but this tournament had so much quality," Halverson said. "It's the best competition at 1A I've seen in 10 years. Sometimes that third-place game is hard because you missed a chance to play for the championship. I was really pleased with the kids' determination and no letdown in that third-place game. It really makes it nice to see how the kids appreciate playing in that type of game." PMG PHOTO: AUSTIN WHITE - Elizabeth Grandle helped lead the Country Christian girls basketball team to a third-place finish at the 1A state tournament March 5. Halverson called the tussle with North Douglas "an absolute dogfight. They are one of the best pressing teams in the state, an explosive, guard-heavy team." North Douglas likes to pressure, turn you over and score in bunches. The Cougars, though, handled the pressure pretty well throughout, suffering only 10 turnovers. But they had to overcome foul trouble, which led to some significant contributions from the bench. Halverson said that three games in three days, and at altitude in Baker City, was starting to take a toll on the legs of his players. Still, they fought through it. But it wasn't easy. COURTESY PHOTO - The Country Christian girls basketball team after their third-place win at the 1A state tournament. With McKenzie Syphard and Lilly Begley on the bench with fouls, Lilly Garfield showed up big off the bench. She scored 10 points and hauled in six boards, putting a cap on a season where Halverson said she's "just gotten better and better." Evelyn Krieck also shined off the bench, scoring three points while hauling in a team-leading nine rebounds. Elise Doyle played some significant minutes off the bench and helped, along with Krieck and Garfield, stem the tide of the foul trouble. "The difference between winning and losing this game was our bench," Halverson said. PMG PHOTO: AUSTIN WHITE - McKenzie Syphard helped the Country Christian girls basketball team to third place at the 1A state tournament. And while the stats tell most of the story, he pointed to the play of Begley, who did a host of things that don't show up in the stat column. She routinely slid over to offer help on North Douglas offensive players who'd breached the team's defense, allowing her teammates to recover and keep the defense's integrity. Halverson said she probably did that eight to 10 times during the game and it was important. Efforts like that were one of the reasons the Cougars enjoyed the run they did. And that defensive effort was vital as the team had some offensive struggles at times. "Generally, as a team we didn't shoot very well," Halverson said. "But, Annie (Bafford) got rolling in this game and had a key streak for us." Bafford hit three key free throws after being fouled, then nailed a three-pointer to keep the run going. "I think we trailed more than we led in this game," Halverson said. "We had just enough answers to stay within striking distance and then we made some shots. Lanie Barden hit a key three from the corner to help us get over the hump. Then they had to put us at the line, and we made free throws." Bafford led the offense with 19 points while Elizabeth Grandle added 16. The Cougars finished the season with a 25-7 record and that third-place state tournament trophy.

Crane 44, Country Christian 37 The 1A semifinal game came down to shooting and the Mustangs had plenty of it in this one. "They are a real dangerous team and against us they had a kid hit 7-of-9 from the three-point line and two other kids who hit threes," Halverson said. "They have a lot of long, rangy, athletic guards who can shoot from anywhere. We are a man-to-man defensive team, but after playing them earlier, we came out in a 2-3 zone to cover the perimeter. They also just murder teams on the boards, they all crash and are so athletic." Coming into the game, Halverson's squad had three goals — rebound the ball, take away transition opportunities, and cover the perimeter. "I don't think they got a transition bucket, and we killed them on the boards, but that one kid," Halverson said. "We led by seven at the half, then she hit two early threes in the third quarter and that got her going." The Cougars were tied with three minutes to go but Crane hit two big three-pointers and was able to hold on even as Country Christian had multiple good looks and opportunities that simply wouldn't got through the bucket. "We did everything we could do, but making shots was very inconsistent for us throughout the tournament," Halverson said. "I'm super proud of how the team played and I thought that, generally, we had a good tournament." The Cougars opened the state tournament with a 53-46 win over Nixyaawii on Feb. 3. Additionally, Grandle was named to the all-tournament first team.

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