Oregon City rides a strong fourth quarter to victory over the upstart Tigers on March 3

 - Junior guard Lexi Morace drives through a pair of defenders in Newberg's blowout loss to Oregon City last week in the first round of the 6A playoffs.

After an up-and-down season that included a challenging conference slate and plenty of valuable experience, the Newberg High School girls basketball team ended its campaign with a playoff loss to Oregon City last week. The No. 28 seed Tigers fell 61-35 to No. 5 Oregon City in the first round of the OSAA 6A playoffs on March 3, with a devastating fourth quarter providing to be the difference in an otherwise competitive contest.

"We played really well for three quarters," NHS coach Luke Lindell said. "We got down early and struggled with their speed and aggressiveness, and we were down 13 at halftime. We out-scored them by nine in the third quarter and at that point it felt like anyone's ballgame, but they were the ones who finished strong – and they're a tough team – and they eventually pulled it out."

Oregon City went on a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter and never looked back. Their full-court pressure proved too much for the young Tigers to handle and it ended up being their undoing.

Otherwise, Lindell said Newberg bought into its game plan and was locked in for a large portion of the game – with the idea of an upset brewing in their minds entering the final quarter of play.

"They are capable of going on those runs against you with their pressure," Lindell said. "If you don't take care of the basketball, the game can get away from you. It went from a four-point game to a 14-point game and we weren't able to recover from that, which was disappointing."

With the loss, Newberg graduates a trio of seniors: Maddy Bell, Sicily Hampton and Karly Fouche. They took different routes to get to this point, but Lindell said they all contributed in key ways to the program and its improvement.

It was an emotional and bittersweet ending for the three seniors, but they leave behind a young group with playoff experience under its belt having improved their record yet again.

"I am really proud of them," Lindell said of his graduating players. "Sicily and Karly really stuck with it and were in the program all four years, and they had a nice trajectory and came into their roles on the varsity team. It was awesome to see the kind of progress they made and they're great leaders. Maddy came in as a transfer from Yamhill-Carlton and she filled a role for us and provided a scoring bunch off the bench. I'm going to miss all three of them."

Now the focus for the Tigers is on bringing a handful of new players into the fold next year while developing the ones that remain. The work begins this summer with offseason training and conditioning programs, and some of the girls will play other sports as well.

Lindell isn't satisfied with where the team finds itself at this stage. While he expressed optimism about the program's direction, he wants more in the near future and he said he knows that building a contender takes time.

"We just have to keep striving to get better as a program," Lindell said. "This is not the endgame for us – we're on this continuum in my mind and just getting to the playoffs isn't good enough. We have to find ways to win more games in the regular season and set ourselves up for a run in the playoffs.

"Our work in the offseason is going to have to reflect our desire to get better. Our youth program, too, is making strides and we've got a lot of girls out playing basketball. The future for this program is bright and we're just starting to reap the benefits of the work that's been put in the last few years. It takes time to build culture and get that winning mentality, and the best is yet to come."

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