Tigard girls punch their state tourney return ticket
TIGARD — Sometimes, déjà vu can be a really good thing.
Just ask the Tigard High School girls basketball team.
Last year, the Tigers earned a berth in the Class 6A state tournament by getting a win over Grants Pass in a Class 6A state playoff second-round game.
On Saturday, Tigard was looking to earn a second straight trip to the state tournament. In order to get there, the Tigers had to beat — you guessed it — Grants Pass.
And that's just what Tigard did.
The Tigers claimed a spot in the Class 6A state tournament for the second straight year by powering their way to a 38-23 win over the Lady Cavers in a Class 6A state playoff second-round game played at Tigard High School.
"This means a lot. We really wanted this game," said Tigard junior Delaney Leavitt, who led all scorers in the contest with 15 points. "We knew that Grants Pass was going to be a really tough team. We prepared a lot. We knew they wanted to come out and beat us, so this was really big."
"It means a lot to go back to the Chiles Center," Tigard senior guard Paige LaFountain said. "It's been really fun, and, of course, that's our goal every season. Now that we're seniors, I just wanted to go back and have that experience again."
"We're excited about it," Tigard coach Steve Naylor said. "I think it was a good effort tonight."
With the loss, Grants Pass, the No. 3 team out of the Southwest Conference, and the No. 15 in the final OSAA power rankings, finished the season with a final overall record of 16-10.
Tigard, the Three Rivers League champion, and the No. 2 team in the power rankings, improves to 24-3 on the season with the victory. The Tigers also advance to the Class 6A state tournament, where they'll meet Sheldon in a tourney quarterfinal game set to be played Thursday, starting at 8:15 p.m. at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
"We're really excited to be going to the Chiles Center," Leavitt said.
"This was super fun," LaFountain said of the win over Grants Pass. "We had some concerns, but we prepared a lot, and we executed our stuff. Our bench players and coaches helped us prepare really well, so we were ready."
Grants Pass, likely looking for revenge, also looked to be ready to go at the start of Saturday's playoff game. With their slow-down offense, the Lady Cavers took a 6-3 lead following a 3-point basket by senior Ahdra Klingler coming with 4 minutes and 43 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
The Tigers also had some other concerns, as star senior guard Campbell Gray, the two-time Three Rivers League Player of the Year, was hobbled due to an ankle injury she suffered near the end of Tigard's first-round state playoff win over McNary.
But Gray quickly took away some of those concerns. She assisted on a layup by junior Kennedy Brown and followed that up with a put-back basket and a 3-pointer, coming off a pass from LaFountain, helping the Tigers take a 10-6 lead at the end of the opening period.
"It's been a tough couple of days, because Campbell got hurt in the McNary game," Naylor said. "She didn't practice the past couple of days. She didn't do anything in the walk-through today. She basically didn't do anything with the plays we put in for Grants Pass. She just walked on the court and she did a great job. Yesterday, at the end of practice, we thought that she wasn't going to go, but then she did. We thought she might start, play two minutes, and that would be the end of the day."
Still, with Gray not at 100 percent, Tigard needed a go-to scorer. Leavitt stepped up to take that role.
The junior sank her second 3-pointer of the game, and aded two more baskets in the second quarter, helping the Tigers claim a 19-14 halftime lead.
"Delaney is the one in that first half who really got us going," Naylor said. "She hasn't been in that role all year, but, with Campbell being like that, all the roles shifted. It was great seeing that, for Delaney, that role wasn't too big for her, and she made some big baskets for us in the first half. She stepped up, and that was great."
"We knew that Campbell, with her ankle, that other people had to step up.," Leavitt said. "I want Campbell at full speed, but I was ready to step up."
The entire Tigard squad, especially on defense, seemed to step up in the second half. The Tigers limited Grants Pass to just one basket from the field, a 3-pointer by senior Grace Gaither, in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Tigard got baskets from Leavitt, senior post Dani Lyons, off another LaFountain assist, and Brown in the period, giving the Tigers a 25-19 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
That's where Tigard really put the hammer down.
The Tigers opened the final period with a 13-0 run, which included a 3-pointer by Leavitt, a pair of short-range bank shots by Lyons, coming off a passes from LaFountain and Gray, and three baskets by Gray, giving Tigard a 38-19 lead with 2:30 left in the game.
From there, the Tigers cruised to the 38-23 lead, and celebrated its return to the Class 6A state tournament.
"We've been preparing for awhile," LaFountain said. "Grants Pass is a really good team, and they have some really good players. We bonded with them at a lot of team camps. They're a really classy team, and we love playing against them."
"We knew it was going to be a slow game," Leavitt said. "We wanted to speed up the pace, but it was really hard, because their defense is so good."
Speaking of defense, Tigard's defense looked to be a big key to the victory, as the Tigers helped force Grants Pass into a 7-for-29 shooting performance from the field.
"Our scout team, the girls in practice, did a great job mimicking what Grants Pass does, and that just helped us out so much," Naylor said. "A lot of people don't understand how important that is. They did a great job executing what Grants Pass does. We not only had their offense, but all of their individual plays."
"We prepared a lot for their shooters," LaFountain said. "We didn't know if we were going to play man or zone. Ajae (Holdman) played some really good defense, and we just worked as a team. We played really hard, and we played as a team. It was good."
Leavitt's 15 points were also a key.
"It felt really good, because we knew that every possession mattered, because the score was so low," she said.
Gray scored 13 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Lyons had six points and five rebounds. Brown had four points and two steals. LaFountain didn't score in the contest, but she stepped up with five rebounds and four assists.
"I'm just looking to make my teammates better," she said. "If I have a shot, I'll go for it. I haven't scored that much this season, but that's OK, because getting rebounds and assists are big. If that helps our team, I'll do it."
Tigard, as a team, made 17 of 36 shots from the field, with four 3-pointers. The Tigers also outrebounded Grants Pass by a 26-16 margin, while also having just five turnovers in the contest.
Gaither led Grants Pass with 11 points.
Now, the Tigers are turning their attention to their state tournament opener with Sheldon.
"Now we have to focus on our next game," Leavitt said. "We have to prepare a lot. Our goal is to play three games, no matter what happens, we want to play on the last day, that's always our goal. We're going to be hopeful. We're always staying positive and hopeful. We're going to take it one game at a time."
"We just have to prepare for Sheldon. We're going to try and win it all. We want to go as far as we can. We really want to play three games. We don't want to be done after two. We want to keep going."
Sheldon, the Southwest Conference champion, and the No. 7 team in the power rankings, brings a record of 23-4 into Thursday's state tourney quarterfinal game. Tigard and the Irish have met already this season, with the Tigers getting a 69-51 win in a game played Dec. 4 at Tigard High School.
"Every game just keeps getting harder and harder, and hopefully, Campbell's ankle will get better, and we'll be ready to go," Naylor said.
If the Tigers win their quarterfinal game with Sheldon on Thursday, they'll face either Benson or Jesuit in a state tournament semifinal game Friday at 8:15 p.m. If Tigard loses on Thursday, it will play either Benson or Jesuit in a fourth-place semifinal game Friday at 10:45 a.m.
The Class 6A state championship game will be played Saturday at 8:30 p.m.