Laser-focused on bringing home another state championship, the St. Paul girls basketball team is headed to Baker City with seven other teams in pursuit of the Class 1A title. The No. 2-ranked Bucks got there thanks to a 64-45 win over Echo on Friday in the first round of the playoffs.
SPHS coach Dave Matlock said a hot start propelled St. Paul to victory against an Echo team that was better than their seeding would indicate.
"We really came out firing with great intensity and we took it at them early with 20 points in the first quarter," he said. "That got us off to a confident start and we didn't back down to them. They're ranked 15th, but they are much better than that ranking, so hats off to them."
A focused, confident effort led to a resounding victory for St. Paul. Senior Erin Counts led the way with a dominant performance, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Counts shot 10-of-14 from two-point range and had a pair of steals as well.
Supplementing Counts' performance was senior Isabelle Wyss with a near triple double – 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists – along with a 13 point, eight rebound outing from freshman Annabelle Davidson.
Davidson's contributions have been a secret weapon of sorts for St. Paul, as the team seems to always get production out of Counts and Wyss.
"Anabelle is a kid who people just don't know yet because she's young," Matlock said. "That was a nice shot in the arm for us offensively and teams are going to have to prepare for her."
The victory over Echo was an important first step for the Bucks, who are still ironing out some defensive kinks.
"We still need to shore up some things with help side on dribble drives, as well as defending the pick-and-roll," Matlock said. "Overall, we were able to hold them in check and light up the scoreboard. This time of year you're going to face the best offenses and we did a good job containing them."
No. 7 Mohawk awaits St. Paul in Baker City on Wednesday night. The two teams played once this season in an endowment game late in their schedules, with the Bucks prevailing 45-36 at home.
On a neutral court with a lot on the line, Matlock expects that margin could get tighter. But he believes his team will play better this time having encountered Mohawk before.
"That is going to be a physical, knock down, drag out game," Matlock said. "Neither team will quit and they are similar in mentalities and physical talent. They are a lot like us in that they run the court and are very good defensively. Hopefully we can force turnovers like we did last time and get opportunities in transition."
Getting out in transition and controlling the pace of the game will be key for the Bucks. If they win, they are likely to face rival Perrydale – the No. 3 seed – in the state semifinals, with a potential date with No. 1 Crane on tap for the state title game Saturday.
For now, though, the Bucks are focused intently on Mohawk.
"We like to run as much as they do, but I still think we have an advantage in that regard," Matlock said. "They aren't as efficient as we are and if we can score in bunches on that we will make it hard for them. We know more about them now too having played them before."
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