St. Helens girls hoops loses league opener to Wilsonville
As great and progressive as the non-league portion of the season was for the St. Helens girls' basketball team, the Northwest Oregon Conference is a different sort beast, with a two-headed monster on top of it in La Salle and Wilsonville.
The Lions ended their preseason on a high, winning their final four contests to run their record to 8-1 overall. But in their NWOC opener against Wilsonville, St. Helens was handed one of those eye-opening setbacks, one that hopefully can be learned from over the long haul. Wilsonville jumped out to a 13-2 lead and never looked back, rolling to a 76-41 win over St. Helens on Jan 15 at Wilsonville High School.
The Wildcats led 24-9 at the end of the first quarter and 42-19 at halftime. Lion captain Madison Holm, who was double teamed every time she drove to the basket, led St. Helens with 14 points. Maria Reardon added 10 points. Emilia Bishop and Renee Lee each had 15 for Wilsonville.
"Wilsonville is a really good team," St. Helens head coach Michael Fendall said. "We struggled obviously, but that's what good teams do to teams that are developing. We turned the ball over a ton and gave up a ton of offensive rebounds, so when you give a really good team second chances and third chances, they're going to score."
The Wildcats are an atypical Class 5A squad. In December the defending co-league champs drubbed reigning 6A state champion Benson and followed it up with a thrashing of likely 6A state tournament entrant Liberty at the Holiday Classic at Franklin High School. Wilsonville, Corvallis and La Salle were the only 5A teams invited to the event that fielded the best of the best in the state of Oregon regardless of classification. When Fendall said there is a "gap" from Wilsonville and La Salle to the rest of the league, he wasn't kidding. There's a chance those two NWOC schools face off for a 5A state title. And for all the goodwill built up during the first month or so of the season, Fendall said now is the time for St. Helens to start making up ground on the league's elites. The Lions are tenth in the 5A power rankings, a nice footnote and a testament to St. Helens' strength of schedule so far. Yet, their postseason fate rests on how well they perform against inter-conference foes and whether or not they can secure one of the league's coveted four automatic playoff bids. That's the reality, but one St. Helens is equipped to handle.
"This is our first league game and obviously league means everything," Fendall said. "Being 8-1 in the preseason is great, but it has no bearing on getting a one through four seed in our league. That's (preseason) done and to me, we're 0-1 because that's what really matters. We've got to take care of the basketball and just play with a lot more toughness and intensity."
Holm, who missed St. Helens' only loss of the season due to injury, led the Lions in scoring. But the St. Helens senior had to work for every basket.
"We wanted to take away Maddie," Wilsonville head coach Justin Duke said. "We doubled her early every time she touched it and the kids rotated well. That really caused them problems and got them off their game."
St. Helens travels to Columbia County rival Scappoose on Friday for a 7 p.m. tip time at Scappoose High School. Scappoose (4-6 overall, 0-1 in league) is greatly improved from a year ago. The Indians and Lions split their season series with a win apiece last season. Then, the Lions are back on the road next week with games at Parkrose and Hillsboro.
Derek Wiley of the Wilsonville Spokesman contributed to this story.
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