Taycee Wedin scored a game-high 23 points to lead the top-ranked Falcons past the Cougars of Independence in Saturday's opening round of the OSAA Class 5A girls' basketball playoffs.

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - La Salle Prep's Aleah Goodman helped guide the top-ranked Falcons to a 53-39 playoff win over Central Saturday.La Salle Prep's Aleah Goodman has no doubt that the Falcons' girls' basketball team is ready for the next challenge.

And the one after that, and the one after that.

The top-ranked Falcons cleared the first hurdle in their bid for possible state title when they overcame a sluggish start and pulled away from the Central Cougars for a 59-35 home win in Saturday's opening round of the OSAA Class 5A playoffs.

La Salle's Taycee Wedin finished with a game-high 23 points, and Emily Niebergall and Goodman added nine points each as the Falcons (23-2) advanced to Wednesday's 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal against Putnam (18-7) at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

The semifinals are Thursday, and the championship final is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday.

"I love where we're at right now," said Goodman, the Oregon State-bound guard who hopes to lead the Falcons to a second state title in three seasons. "I think we're playing amazing defensively, and our offense, even when our shots aren't falling, we trust out shooting ability, so I'm not really worried about that at all.

"If we keep playing how we're playing, I think we can do anything. We've just got to believe in ourselves, do what we do best, play our game, and not worry about who we're playing."

The Falcons made only two of their first 11 shots Saturday, and they relied on their defense to keep the game close.

Central's Kaitlin Dorn scored with 25 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Cougars a brief 6-4 lead.

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - La Salle Prep's Emily NIbergall drives to the basket for two of her nine points in Saturday's 59-35 playoff win over Central.Niebergall answered with a 3-pointer to close the first quarter, and then the Falcons went on a 13-5 run at the start of the second to take a 20-11 lead with 3:05 left in the half.

La Salle led 24-15 at halftime.

"We felt confident about our defense, holding Central to 15 points in the first half, and we hoped and believed that the shots would start to fall," Falcons coach Kelli Wedin said. "The girls fought through and the knew we'd be OK."

Taycee Wedin hit a trey to open the third quarter and Isabella Crowley added two more during a 17-5 run that pushed the lead to 41-20.

"La Salle is a great team," Cougars coach Julie McDonald said. "You just try to do what you can do to slow them down.

"I thought our girls came in and really got after it. The first half, I was really pleased. We went int at halftime and said, 'Just work hard. That's all we can ask for.'

"You're not going to shut down La Salle. You're only going to try to contain them. They play great defense, they run the floor well, and they've got great shooters all around."

Is there a 5A team that can beat the Falcons?

"It's going to take someone pretty special on a good night to beat them," McDonald said. "La Salle's a tough team to beat."

The Falcons have yet to lose to an in-state opponent this season, and have won 17 consecutive games against 5A competition by an average margin of 33.2 points a game.

In Wednesday's quarterfinals, the Falcons will face a Putnam team that they overwhelmed twice during Northwest Oregon Conference play, winning by scores of 55-33 at Putnam on Jan. 25, and 75-29 at home on Feb. 8.

"Putnam knows us well and it's hard playing a team three times," Kelli Wedin said. "I'm not comfortable with it. I don't care that we beat them both times. I'm not comfortable."

At the same time, anything short of a state championship for this Falcons' team would be a disappointment.

"We're ready," Kelli Wedin said. "We can't do a whole lot more than we have already done. We feel like we've sharpen up on both ends and fine tuned some things this whole week. We just said, 'Hey, have some confidence in your preparation and let's go out and see what we can do.'"

La Salle defeated Hermiston for the 2014-15 state title, then lost to Springfield in last year's semifinals.

"It's not going to be easy," Kelli Wedin said. "The next three games are going to be three of the toughest games we've played all year. The girls know it's not going to be easy, and they know they've just got to go out there with no regrets and leave it all on the court."

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