Kennedy girls win home tournament with 44-41 victory over 4A Molalla and sits at top of 2A rankings

PHIL HAWKINS - Kaylin Cantu was key to the Trojans' win over 2017 state champion Monroe last week, scoring a game-high 14 points and playing lockdown defense against the Dragons' top player, Madison Ballard.
A 46-point win, a victory over the defending 2A state champs and a home tournament title against a 4A league champion — it's all in a week's work for the top-ranked 2A team in the state.

The No. 1 Kennedy girls basketball team continued its strong start to the season, maintaining its unbeaten record through the first two weeks with three more wins last week. The Trojans (5-0) opened the week with a 67-21 win at Vernonia on Dec. 5 and closed it in emphatic fashion, beating the Monroe Dragons 49-40 on Friday and following with a 44-41 win against the Molalla Indians on Saturday to win the Kennedy Classic basketball tournament.

"I'm really proud of the girls," Kennedy co-head coach Kerry Hall said. "For the Monroe game they played hard, and then for them to turn around the next day after playing that hard and taking on another really good opponent and managing to finish out that game, I'm pretty impressed by them."

The tournament was a solid test for the Trojans this early in the season, providing the kind of intense basketball against strong opponents on short rest that they'll see if they advance to the state quarterfinal tournament in March.

"It's a good sign that if we make it to Pendleton on day two, we'll be able to hang in there," Hall said. "Our main goal is to win a championship, and playing these good teams is going to get us there."

After winning their first three games of the season by more than 40 points each, the Kennedy girls got their first real challenge of the season against the Dragons on Friday.

Monroe is coming off an undefeated season to win the 2016 state championship and hadn't lost a game since the 2015 state playoffs. The two teams last met in the championship game of last year's Kennedy Classic, where the Trojans lost 61-54 and were eager to repay the favor.

But Kennedy came out of the gates timid, falling behind 14-10 after the first quarter and had a difficult time finding an offensive rhythm against the Dragons. The Trojans rebounded in the second quarter, holding Monroe to just five points to take a 22-19 lead into halftime, but the Dragons rallied with 18 points in the third quarter to take a 37-35 lead going into the final eight minutes.

That's when Kennedy locked in. The Trojans upped the defensive intensity for the final minutes of the game, allowing just a single 3-point basket in the fourth quarter to pick up the crucial win.

"We played really nervous, I felt like, until the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden, the girls were like 'OK, we can do this,'" Hall said. "They kind of took a deep breath and started playing Kennedy basketball."

Kaylin Cantu, who opened the game with eight points in the first quarter, iced the contest by going 4-for-4 in the final period to finish with a game-high 14 points. Senior teammate Hannah Arritola went 3-for-4 from the foul line in the period, finishing the game with 10 points scored all in the second half.

"Our defense was phenomenal," Hall said. "Kaylin Cantu played outstanding on Monroe's best player, Madison Ballard. I couldn't have asked more out of her. She showed up to play against Monroe."

The following day, the Trojans burst out to a 15-point lead early against the Molalla Indians, but slowly let them back in the game in the second half and held on for the three-point victory. It was a good win for the team, coming out with a win against a big opponent the day after an intense game, but also proved that there's always room for improvement for a team with its eyes on a championship at the end of the season.

"I'm not satisfied with our defense yet; I still think we can do better," Hall said.

The Kennedy coach praised the play of juniors Kalyssa Kleinschmit and Clarissa Traeger, who came up big in the win over Molalla and continue to prove that the Trojans' depth is going to be key toward how well the team can play on short rest situations.

"Our big bench is really helping us in these games, that's a key factor for us," Hall said. "We don't just have five, we honestly have about 13 girls we can play. Any given night, whoever is ready to play is going to be playing."

Phil Hawkins can be reached at 503-765-1194 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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