Sometimes, in postseason play, it's all about survival of the fittest.
Well, there may be no better way to put it — the Tualatin High School girls basketball team survived.
The Timberwolves, after trailing Clackamas by three points late in regulation play, and then finding themselves down four late in the first overtime, dramatically rallied back both times, and then pulled away in the second overtime session to get a 50-40 win over the Cavaliers in a Class 6A first-round state playoff thriller played Tuesday at Tualatin High School.
"Oh, it was a blast," said Tualatin junior Sidney Dering, who led all scorers in the contest with 18 points. "It was a little scary sometimes. There were some ups and downs, but we wanted it really bad."
"It's super big. We haven't really advanced in the playoffs the past few years. So, it's really big," said Tualatin junior guard Teagan Gaviola, who gave the Wolves a spark off the bench, scoring 10 points. "It was really up-and-down during the game. There were some points where it felt like it was kind of getting out our grasp, but we kept our heads in the game, and we came out with intensity."
With the loss, Clackamas, which fell 58-32 at home to Tualatin back on Dec. 13, finished its season with a final overall record of 14-11.
"We started the season off rough," said Clackamas junior guard Sydney Benedict, who led the Cavaliers with 15 points. "Every team has to get used to each other. Then we just bonded together. And, at the end of the day, we came out and played one of the best games that we could tonight, but we just couldn't quite get it done."
With the victory, Tualatin improved to 19-6 on the season. The Wolves also advance to the second round of the state playoffs, where they'll host Southridge on Friday.
"I'm so proud of these girls," Tualatin coach Wes Pappas said. "It's been a tremendous season for us. We set some lofty goals, even though it's a team that won just nine games last year, and to get our 19th win tonight has been phenomenal."
Clackamas, double-teaming Tualatin standout junior post Natalie Lathrop throughout the contest, didn't allow the Wolves to score in the 5 minutes and 15 seconds of the contest, and took an early 6-0 lead on baskets from sophomore Ava Peterson, senior Kiah Wetzell and junior Maddie Tacheny.
Tualatin, getting a basket and free throw from Dering, and a 3-point basket from junior Kasidy Javernick, rallied to tie the game at 8-8 at the end of the opening period.
The teams were also tied at halftime, at 16-16, following a defense-dominated first two quarters.
The Wolves started to take charge early in the third quarter. Dering scored four straight points to open the period. Lathrop sank a pair of free throws later in the quarter, and Gaviola came up with a steal and basket on a dive to the hoop, upping the Tualatin lead to 25-18 with 4:23 left in the quarter.
Clackamas, with Benedict scoring four straight points, trimmed the margin to 25-22. But a 3-pointer by junior Aurora Davis, coming off an assist by sophomore Lusi Tapasa, gave Tualatin a 28-22 lead going into the fourth quarter.
That's where things really got interesting.
Dering opened the final stanza with a basket on a short-range bank shot, upping the Wolves' lead to 30-22. That's when Clackamas came roaring back. Junior guard Bella Garcia sank back-to-back 3-pointers, and Benedict followed with a 3-point bank shot from the left side, giving the Cavaliers a 31-30 lead with 4:08 left in the game. Benedict then sank a running jumper, giving Clackamas a 3-point lead, at 33-30, as time was starting to run down, and run out, on the Wolves.
But Tualatin tied the game, at 33-33, when Davis sank a 3-pointer from the left corner, coming off a pass from junior Kasidy Javernick, with 1:59 left in the game.
Between turnovers and missed shots, neither team was able to score again in regulation play, sending the game to overtime.
In the first overtime session, Clackamas, getting a basket on a foul-line jumper by Benedict, followed by a 3-pointer by Garcia, took a 40-36 lead with 1:14 left to play.
But that didn't seem to bother the Wolves.
"We always knew we just had to keep our heads in it," Dering said. "Like I was telling my teammates, 'stay with me, stay in this. We can do this if we just chip away and grind at it.' We never lost hope."
"We were thinking that we had to score," Gaviola said.
And, they did.
Dering went 2 for 2 from the free throw line, after coming up with a steal, to make the score 40-38 with 35.5 seconds left to play in overtime. Then, following a Clackamas turnover, Lathrop scored on a short-range banker, coming off a pass from Dering, to tie the game at 40-40 with 14 seconds remaining.
Clackamas' last-second attempt for the win was off the mark, sending the contest to a second overtime session.
And, in that second overtime, it was all Tualatin.
Gaviola started the second OT with a 3-point play, as she was fouled while sinking a 10-foot jumper, giving the Wolves a 43-40 lead.
"It happened really fast, but it felt really good to get that 'and-one,'" Gaviola said with a smile.
From there, Tualatin got a pair of free throws from Dering, a basket by Dering, coming off a pass from senior Sophie Bennett, a pair of free throws by Davis, and a free throw by Gaviola. Meanwhile, Clackamas wasn't able to score in the 4-minute overtime session, allowing Tualatin to breathe a sigh of relief, and start celebrating a 50-40 victory.
"We wanted to be done," Dering said. "We realized that we had enough. We were ready to close this out and get a win."
"Our team is really tough mentally, and physically," Gaviola said. "Having that second overtime is really hard on teams, mentally and physically, but I feel our team is really capable of taking it over. This was so fun. I can't believe it."Dering, in addition to her game-high 18 points, also had six rebounds in the contest.
"I wanted it bad," Dering said. "I haven't won a playoff game since I've been in high school, and we had a great opportunity tonight. This was a great place to be."
Lathrop had eight points, nine rebounds and eight blocked shots. Davis scored eight points, and Javernick had six points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
Tualatin, as a team, made 14 of 44 shots from the field, with three 3-pointers, and 19 of 25 free-throw attempts.
"Clackamas, hats off to them. We beat them by a lot early in the season, and they really brought it tonight," Pappas said. "They had a great game plan, and did a great job, but we had some moments where we made a lot of mistakes. But, at the same time, we had some moments where we had some kids really step up. Teagan Gaviola was huge. She had some clutch plays. And, when we needed it, our defense, which we've relied on all year, was able to get some stops in that second overtime. I'm just proud of the girls."
For Clackamas, Benedict scored all of her team-high 15 points after halftime.
"I just wanted to do what was best for my team," Benedict said. "We have four seniors, and I was playing for them. I tried to get as many points up as I could."
Garcia sank three 3-pointers, and added nine points for the Cavaliers. Peterson and Henderson each scored five points.
Clackamas, as a team, made 16 of 48 shots from the field, with six 3-pointers, and two of three free-throw attempts.
"It was a little frustrating at the end. We should have pulled out the victory," Benedict said. "But we executed our game plan the best we could, and I felt like our defense stepped up. It was a super fun game, one of the most fun games I've ever played in, and I've played basketball since I've been little."
Southridge, which scored a 65-47 home win over Lakeridge in Tuesday's first-round, brings an overall record of 18-6 into Friday's second-round state playoff game at Tualatin.
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