Kennedy girls prevail 53-27 over Rainier
Holding a 33-point lead going into the fourth quarter of last week's game against the Rainier Columbians, one could forgive the No. 2 Kennedy girls basketball team from continuing to play its best athletes.
After all, it was the final game of the regular season at home, and the Trojans were celebrating their three seniors — Catherine Mutsch, Grace Schaecher and Sophia Carley.
Kennedy went on to win 53-27, led by 18 points by Carley — the Trojans' two-time state champion, multi-time League Player of the Year and former 2A Player of the Year.
With only a few postseason games left in JFK, the Kennedy coaching staff and fans wanted to savor every minute with their star player.
"I love senior night — especially when they all get to play a lot, have a lot of fun. They just want to play," Kennedy co-head coach Peter Hall said. "Rainier came in, and they were like, 'Let's have a good time tonight.' We all did our best to keep a fun atmosphere and have a good time."
Carley scored six of her points in the quarter and remained on the court in the final minutes of the game, along with Schaecher and Butsch. Even though the win was decided at that point, the two teams were both happy to let the game play out to celebrate the outgoing seniors.
"It's always tough because it's the end of the game, and you have a lead. But you want to put the seniors in, it's their night," Hall said. "(Rainier head coach Doug Knox) was like, 'Don't even worry about it.' We talked to him before about it, and it was good."
It was the final (relatively) pressure-free contest of the season for the Trojans (21-4, 14-0 Tri-River), who will host the league championship game on Saturday, Feb. 22, followed by a first-round state playoff game on Friday, Feb. 28.
From here on out, every contest carries utmost importance for the Trojans, who are seeking to win their third state title in the past four years. Thursday's contest against Rainier (6-17, 2-6 3A Coastal Range) was the last opportunity to hone the team's defensive chops, working on a few late-season changes that will hopefully pay dividends over the coming two weeks.
"It was a good night to try that because it's a non-league opponent," Hall said. "It's a game where we can throw things against the wall, see where they stick, and go from there."
In addition to her contributions on offense, Carley was leading the way on the defensive side of the ball, prowling the paint in the half-court and dictating the pressure when the Trojans switched to press and trapping schemes.
"She was directing traffic before they crossed half court, and it really helped us get stops and play really good," Hall said. "They struggled in the beginning. And then toward the second half, it was completely different."
If the Trojans want to hoist another championship banner in the JFK gymnasium, they'll need to do so on the defensive side of the court. In the team's 21 victories this season, Kennedy has given up just 30.6 points per game. Of the team's four losses, that number has ballooned up to 48.5 points surrendered.
Those losses have all come to highly-ranked opponents in other classifications — 3A No. 1 Sutherlin, 3A No. 2 Clatskanie, 1A No. 1 Crane and 1A No. 2 St. Paul.
And while Kennedy will not face any of those teams in the state playoffs, the lessons learned in those losses will prove monumental during the next two weeks.
In the Trojans' most recent loss, 40-34 to Crane on Feb. 5, the team rallied from a double-digit deficit to pull within two points in the closing minutes before the Mustangs were able to pull away at the free-throw line.
"I think defense was once against the catalyst in that game," co-head coach Kerry Hall said. "We weren't shooting the ball well in that game. Any points we had were inside, and against Crane, that's hard. They've got some big girls, and it took a lot of patience on our part."
The Trojans have yet to lose to a 2A opponent this season, their last loss of which was coming in the semifinals against Coquille last year. However, the team has come close at nearby No. 4 Gervais, having to rally from an eight-point deficit to pull out a 45-40 win in their last meeting.
"We were down, and we found a way to get things to click, and that's what you want," Peter Hall said. "You want that practice on how to finish a game, because when you get to playoffs, if you haven't had that, you don't want to be left not knowing what to do."
If Gervais makes its way through the league playoffs to meet Kennedy for a third time this season in the league title game, the Trojans will know it will take their best defensive effort to hold off a team averaging more than 50 points a game this season.
And from there, it's off to the state playoffs.
"It prepares you, so when you do get here, you're ready," Peter Hall said. "We've had a lot of games this year that were close, and the girls did a good job of executing. It just gets us hopefully to where we want to be."
RAINIER 4 4 8 11 — 27
Kennedy — S. Carley 18, Cantu 15, Arritola 7, M. Carley 5, Newton 4, Hall 2, Schaecher 2
Rainier — Norman 6, R. Schimmel 6, Crape 5, Budge 2, Farrell 2, Melvin 2, P. Schimmel 2
Kennedy — M. Carley 1, Arritola 1
Rainier — Crape 1
Kennedy — 5/11
Rainier — 2/2
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