Lion seniors leave mark, even without playoff spot
Anyone who has been connected with St. Helens High's girls' basketball team for any length of time is probably tired of hearing this, but here it goes: There's always next year.
A season that started with tremendous promise came to an all-too-familiar, so-so ending for the Lions in Tuesday's Northwest Oregon Conference finale as they lost in an 81-29 blowout to the La Salle Prep Falcons in Milwaukie.
La Salle's Addi Wedin led all scorers with 24 points and Alyson Miura added 17 for the Falcons (20-4, 12-1 NWOC), who clinched a seventh consecutive league title, although they're sharing this one with co-champion Wilsonville.
Maddie Holm led St. Helens with 23 points, and McKayla Foster and Kaela Lee combined for the other six points as the Lions (11-12, 5-8) stumbled to the finish line, closing the season on a seven-game losing streak.
The late-season skid dashed any hopes the Lions had of reaching the Class 5A playoffs in their first season under coach Michael Fendall. They finished 1 1/ 2 games behind Putnam in the race for the NWOC's fourth and final postseason berth.
"I know, it feels weird," said Lee, the senior forward, as she walked off the court for the last time. "I was expecting us to do better than we did. It's sad that it's over."
Lee kept St. Helens close early when she knocked down a 3-pointer that cut La Salle's lead to 11-8 with 23 seconds to play in the first quarter.
But Miura countered with a trey from the left corner to close out the quarter for La Salle, and then the Falcons outscored the Lions 28-8 in the second quarter to take a 42-16 halftime lead.
The Falcons opened the third quarter on a 20-0 run, turning the game into a rout.
"We competed with La Salle for portions," Fendall said. "We're just wildly inconsistent, and that really kills us. You can't let a team like La Salle hit you with a 16-2 run, because it's over at that point. So, there are lots of things to work on."
Considering St. Helens went 3-20 overall and 0-14 in league two seasons ago under Billy McKinney, and then was 7-13 overall and 5-9 in league last season under Brittaney Niebergall, what the Lions did this season was a significant step in the right direction.
St. Helens went 6-4 in nonconference play, with wins over three 6A schools — Gresham, Reynolds, and McKay. The Lions then lost to Wilsonville in the league opener, but followed that up with consecutive wins over Scappoose, Parkrose, Hillsboro, Putnam, and Milwaukie, putting them in the thick of the NWOC playoff chase.
Then came the losing streak.
"It was kind of a weird, streaky, roller-coaster type of thing," Fendall said. "Maddie Holm was hurt for the second game against Scappoose. She's an incredible player, so when she's off the court, it really hinders us. I still felt we had a chance to win that game (a 37-30 loss), but so it goes.
"Not to make excuses. We could have played better, I could have coached better, but, yeah, we kind of went from the greatest of momentum to totally the opposite."
The players were stunned, too, to see the season unravel the way it did over the final four weeks.
"It's definitely sad," said Paullus, one of six seniors on the Lions' roster. "I thought the second time through league we'd be able to beat the same teams we beat the first time and be able to go to state. That's been my dream since freshman year. Sadly, we didn't make it."
At the same time, the Lions not only won four more games than they won a year ago, but they also climbed four spots to No. 22 in the final 5A power rankings — signs Paullus takes as proof the program is heading in the right direction.
"I am so optimistic," Paullus said. "We came a long way from where the program was my freshman year. Then Michael came in, and I felt very confident with where we were, like confident that we'd be able to go head-to-head with La Salle and Wilsonville instead of them killing us.
"As a whole, we really started strong, but it was definitely disappointing that we didn't win the games that I think we should have won the second half."
Tuesday marked the final game for Carla Carreras, Madisyn Flores, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Foster, Paullus and Lee – while seven other varsity players are eligible to return, including three starters (Madison Blazek, Maria Reardon and Holm).
"I just want to thank everyone, because they made it a great senior year," Lee said. "It was nice to have everyone who came out last year come out again this year, even after we went through another coaching change.
"We've had a lot of different coaches. In my four years, we've had three, and it's been a lot to handle, but I want to thank Michael because he made it a great senior year."
Fendall returned the compliment.
"Our seniors were really good, really motivated, and they did a lot for us," he said. "We've made a lot of progress, and I'm really proud of what this team accomplished. We're looking forward to next year and hopefully being more consistent throughout games and throughout the season overall."