More-consistent Kingsmen pick up important victory vs. Lions in girls basketball

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Senior forward Kaela Lee of St. Helens High releases a shot attempt.Putnam got the inside track on third place in the Northwest Oregon Conference girls basketball race Tuesday night, while St. Helens put itself in a must-win position.

The Kingsmen's solid end-to-end and wire-to-wire performance at St. Helens resulted in a 61-55 victory Tuesday.

"Our girls played our game all 32 minutes," Putnam coach Dean O'Dell said.

The Kingsmen improved to 7-5 in the NWOC with two rounds remaining. The top four finishers go to the Class 5A playoffs, and Putnam is third — one game ahead of 6-6 Hillsboro, with St. Helens at 5-6 and Milwaukie 5-7.

A lot can still happen in the race, but the Lions almost certainly need to snap their five-game losing streak on Friday, when they visit Milwaukie for a 5:45 p.m. game.

St. Helens' final league game is Tuesday, Feb. 26 at La Salle Prep — not a likely win for the Lions, because the Falcons are tied for first at 11-1 with Wilsonville (and Wilsonville and La Salle Prep are 1-2, in that order, in the latest coaches poll).

St. Helens beat Milwaukie 66-54 on Jan. 25, but then again the Lions also had beaten Putnam (57-40) — and St. Helens hasn't won since it played the Mustangs.

Lions coach Michael Fendall said his team must take care of a lot of little things.

"We need to understand that the small things add up and become big," he said.

Putnam came to St. Helens pumped for revenge and to solidify its standing.

"It was a very big game, and kind of nerve-racking," senior guard Abigail Paul said. "Being third makes a big difference in the playoffs, so coming in here we were really determined but nervous."

The difference Tuesday, in simple eight-minute intervals, was the third quarter. Putnam outscored St. Helens in it 22-11 to take a 52-39 lead.

"We came out of the locker room at halftime and just wanted to seal it," Paul said. "We didn't want any scares or anything.

"The third quarter is always our best quarter, no matter what. So we came out hard and did what we needed to do."

St. Helens got within seven points with four minutes left but then failed to score on three possessions (two missed 3-point tries and a missed layup).

The Lions cut the gap to 58-52 with 1:23 remaining, but Putnam, after missing two free throws, grabbed the offensive rebound and got a key put-back from senior Madison Weimer for a 60-52 lead with 1:19 to go.

"The small, mental mistakes got us," Fendall said, "and we didn't rebound very well. A couple of plays at the end of the game I think epitomized that. Their girl misses two free throws, and we don't get the rebound, and they get a put-back ... that was kind of like the game right there."

That and Putnam's consistency.

"Credit to them," Fendall said. "They played really well. They played a more consistent game. We had some runs of good and some runs of bad. But when you play a team you're mostly evenly matched with, and you have the ups and downs and they don't — there it is, right there."

St. Helens junior forward Maddie Holm scored a game-high 23 points, but Putnam's defense packed it in to mostly keep her away from the basket and make life difficult for her.

"Maddie's a great player," Paul said. "We knew if we took her out of the picture it would be a little easier for us. So we just made sure when she drove we had extra help at the basket."

Senior forward Kaela Lee was the Lions' only other notable scorer, slashing her way to 15 points.

Putnam must play host on Friday to Wilsonville, but the Kingsmen will end their season on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Scappoose, so they have a good chance of getting to 8-6 in the final league standings.

St. Helens can get back to .500 in league with a win at Milwaukie, but then comes that La Salle Prep game — and a possible makeup game with 1-10 Parkrose, if it needs to be played and the Broncos are willing after having called off their scheduled meeting with the Lions a week ago.

Milwaukie almost certainly would clinch a playoff berth with victories Friday against St. Helens and Tuesday at Hillsboro.

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