St. Paul girls clip 2A Kennedy Trojans
The St. Paul Buckaroos and Kennedy Trojans have become two of the top small-school girls basketball programs in the state over the past half-decade, accounting for three state titles between the two of them since 2016.
But for all the success on both sides, the rivalry between the two teams has been relatively one-sided until Saturday night's championship game in the annual Kennedy Holiday Classic.
St. Paul built an early lead over the Trojans and withstood a furious rally from them down the stretch to claim a 53-51 win.
"This is really a monumental win for the program," SPHS coach Dave Matlock said. "I told the girls this was on my bucket list and they laughed about that, but it is one we really wanted to get."
The two teams were league rivals in the four-year stretch from 2014 to 2018 when St. Paul moved up to the 2A Tri-River Conference. And while the Bucks and Trojans combined for several memorable contests in that period, Kennedy walked away with a perfect 9-0 record against St. Paul by the time the Bucks returned to the 1A classification.
The two teams didn't play at all last season when St. Paul went 30-0 and won the 1A state title. However, many players still remember their final year in the Tri-River during the 2017-2018 season and were eager to get another chance at the Trojans.
"The girls just took it so personally in a good way," Matlock said. "They wanted to go out and show their best and show they could not only compete, but beat this team.
"They knew they were right there and we've come close so many times in the past few years that we felt if we stayed the course, we might be able to get over that hump today."
As has been the case between the two programs, the final result came down to a test of defensive prowess.
Down 52-47, with 35 seconds remaining to play, Kennedy junior Ellie Cantu slashed to the basket between St. Paul defenders to cut the deficit to three points. Cantu intercepted the inbound pass and put it up for another bucket to cut it to 52-51 with 24 seconds left to play.
The two teams combined for a pair of missed opportunities in the following seconds. St. Paul senior Isabelle Wyss went 0-for-2 at the line on the ensuing possession, then Kennedy sophomore Reese Hall was called for a travel on the other end of the court as she attempted to drive to the basket.
St. Paul freshman Frankie Lear hit 1-of-2 free throws with six seconds left to give the Bucks a 53-51 cushion, leading to the final play of the game.
After advancing the ball to halfcourt, the Trojans took a timeout with 3.4 seconds left. Cantu took the inbound pass at the three-point line, but was immediately pressured by Wyss, who stripped the ball loose and gathered it near midcourt as time expired.
"Tonight they were more prepared for that pressure and I think it's because we've played them so many times," Kennedy co-head coach Pete Hall said. "We had some execution problems with our offense and it was because of their defense. They did a very good job pressuring."
Wyss led the Bucks in scoring with 21 points, doing the majority of her work at the free-throw line where she was 10-of-14. Senior teammate Erin Counts followed with 19 points, adding to a strong weekend in which she averaged 20.0 points per game against Kennedy and in a 57-36 win over Monroe the night before.
Counts was named Tournament MVP for her efforts and was joined by Wyss on the all-tournament first team.
The Trojans were led by Cantu, who scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the second half. Teammates Hailey Arritola and Sophia Carley also scored in double figures, with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Cantu and Carley were likewise named to the all-tournament first team.
The Bucks opened the week with a 54-27 win at Santiam on Dec. 9 and followed with a 69-44 win over Livingstone Adventist Academy to open league play on Dec. 12.
No. 1 St. Paul (5-0, 1-0 Casco League) traveled to face Willamette Valley Christian on Tuesday, followed by a home game against Perrydale on Thursday to conclude the week.
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