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Buckaroos smother Western Mennonite 48-28 in key Tri-River clash and roll past Crosshill Christian 39-12

ST. PAUL — A year ago, St. Paul showed flashes of great potential and had a couple of hot streaks that put them in contention for a long-awaited berth in the 2A state playoffs.

The Bucks were unable to maintain their high level of play down the stretch and were eliminated from playoff contention in a league-tiebreaker contest.SETH GORDON - Sophomore Isabelle Wyss corrals a rebound during St. Paul's 48-28 home win over Western Mennonite. Wyss scored 17 points.

That inconsistency, however, appears to be a thing of the past, as coach Dave Matlock's team has avoided the slow starts and underwhelming efforts that plagued it for stretches in 2016-2017.

It was evident over the weekend as St. Paul dismantled Western Mennonite 48-28 Friday night in a key Tri-River Conference tilt, then rolled over Crosshill Christian 39-12 Saturday.

The Pioneers are not the powerhouse they've been in recent seasons, including runner-up, third- and first-place finishes at state the past three seasons, but at 3-0 in league entering the contest, they're no slouches either.

The Bucks, however, wasted little time in establishing who the dominant team was and raced to a 30-16 halftime lead.

"The biggest maturing step we've made this year is we are ready to play every game," Matlock said. "At times last year we were real slow starters and I couldn't even tell you why. This year, they I think have realized that and their mindset is to go out and get after it. Our mantra, as a team, is that we have to win the first three minutes of the first and third quarters."

St. Paul had impressive stretches last year, even against top-notch competition, but often was unable to sustain it for an entire game and let teams hang around or charge right back into games.

That wasn't the case Friday night, mostly because of how the Bucks defended Western Mennonite's top scoring threats Annika Hess, Peyton Hopper and Makennan Hopper. In a two-game stretch against Regis and Gervais, the trio scored 103 of the Pioneers' 106 points, but St. Paul did an excellent job of preventing all three from driving the lane and forcing them to pass.

The Bucks limited Western Mennonite (7-10, 3-1) to five points in the third quarter, which pushed the advantage to 18 points at 41-23 and allowed Matlock to substitute pretty freely in the fourth quarter.

"They know how to set you up for moves and they know how to finish," Matlock said. "So we knew the key was to have multiple girls because one on one you can't stop them. So that was the game plan, every time (Hess) or the Hoppers were on the ball and they're trying to drive was to double and even triple. We knew we had to make the other two girls shoot the ball and score points, which they hadn't done."

It wasn't the best shooting night for St. Paul, but Matlock's team dominated on the glass, getting many of its points on put-backs. Even then the Bucks weren't finishing at a high rate, but they made more than enough to put the game out of reach.

"We didn't shoot the ball as well tonight, but we knew that we were going to be able to get the boards tonight," he said. "We just rushed our finishes. We didn't gather. But to get those looks is key. With a little more maturity as we go forward, they'll finish those and we'll easily score 60."

Sophomore guard Erin Counts paced the offense with 18 points on medium-range jumpers and drives to the basket, while sophomore post Isabelle Wyss led the effort inside and posted 17 points.

With just one league contest on the schedule, St. Paul (13-3, 3-1) opened the week with a non-conference win over 1A Country Christian and closed it with a trip to future Casco League rival Crosshill Christian on Saturday.

The Eagles have been a solid 1A program in recent years, but are rebuilding this winter and struggled mightily to score the ball in the 39-12 loss.

The Bucks weren't at their best offensively, but didn't need to be either, with Counts notching 14 points and Wyss 10.

St. Paul will face a pair of important league road tests this week, traveling to Santiam Wednesday and to East Linn Christian Friday.

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