One more for the road
One more game, and then the real fun begins.
That's it in a nutshell for the St. Helens girls basketball team as it shifts into the New Year and, more important, heads into the meat of its 2018-19 season schedule.
The Lions will play at The Dalles on Friday night. Then comes the 14-game Northwest Oregon Conference slate — and a run at an Oregon School Activities Class 5A playoff spot.
St. Helens will open its NWOC season at home on Tuesday against Wilsonville, the No. 1-ranked team in the state both by voting coaches and the OSAA computer system.
"Wilsonville and (No. 2 ranked by coaches) La Salle Prep are terrific," said St. Helens coach Michael Fendall, "but I know that Putnam and other teams have been doing well, too."
The top four finishers in the conference earn automatic berths to the 16-team state playoffs.
"Once league starts, if you don't come with intensity and with your best game, you can probably get beat by anyone," Fendall said.
Going into league play off a good showing at The Dalles is the next goal for the Lions, who went 1-1 the week after Christmas, topping McKay 54-48 at St. Helens but losing two nights later, on Dec. 29, 51-48 at South Albany.
"That one was tough to take," Fendall said of the defeat by South Albany. "We were up nine points going into the fourth quarter, but they hit a run on us, and then it was back-and-forth going down to the wire."
St. Helens missed a late one-and-one at the free-throw line with a one-point lead, and South Albany scored on the ensuing possession.
"Then we had a really good look at a 3 and missed," Fendall said.
The Lions had to foul, but their top scorer, Maddie Holm, wound up drawing her fifth personal when "someone tripped over her foot making a crossover — a really tough-luck play for Maddie."
South Albany sank both free throws to go up by three, "and we could not get a good look at a 3 at the end."
The St. Helens offense had trouble converting much of the night at The Dalles.
"We just could not buy a basket," Fendall said. "We had a lot of pretty good looks, and a lot of misses. We've been really struggling to make shots."
Holm led the way with 20-plus points, "but we don't haven't had quite enough support from others," Fendall said. "We could really use someone else to step up and be in the teens or at least in double digits."
Things went better in the McKay game, as St. Helens went to 2-0 this season against the Royal Scots (the Lions also beat McKay 37-25 at St. Helens on Dec. 15).
In the rematch, St. Helens was cruising with a double-digit lead, but McKay surged in the fourth quarter to make things tight.
It was the closest margin of victory this season for the Lions, who are 6-3.
"It was good that we finished it out, a good experience to be in a close, pressure game," Fendall said.
Fendall, in his first season as St. Helens coach, has recently gone to a man-to-man defense as an option to the usual Lions zone. The players are still adjusting to that, he says.
"We played pretty good man defense at South Albany for a while, and then they either exposed some of our help side defense or we didn't protect the paint very well," Fendall said.
Fine-tuning the man defense would be a focus in practice going into game against The Dalles, he added.
"Maddie, Maria (Reardon) and Emelia (Paullus) played man in club over the summer, but everybody else is used to playing a zone, so it can be difficult to get people to understand where they should be when the ball is not in their man's hands," Fendall said.
The other area of emphasis this week is just preparing for another nonleague road trip. The Lions are 5-0 at home, but their only road win came at Dallas in the second game of the season, and they've lost all three of their longer trips (for single games at Redmond, Pendleton and South Albany).
"So I really hope we can get to The Dalles and come out a little bit stronger," Fendall says. "It would be great to play a complete, 32-minute game on the road, which we haven't done since Dallas."