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Senior Erin Counts earns Conference Player of the Year, Buckaroos place five on all-conference team

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The St. Paul girls basketball team swept the Casco League regular season and tournament titles for the second consecutive year since dropping back to the 1A Classification.Most coaches are careful to curb their players' tendencies to look past an immediate game for a big contest on the horizon.

For St. Paul girls basketball skipper Dave Matlock, he uses the former as motivation for the latter.

The No. 2 Buckaroos handily defeated the No. 3 Perrydale Pirates 44-18 in the championship game of the 1A Casco League Tournament on Saturday at George Fox University, earning the conference's top seed heading into this week's state tournament.

The Bucks were eager to smother the Pirates for the third time this season, not just for the immediate stakes at hand, but because they wanted to secure a path that would put them in line for a rematch against No. 1 Crane in the state championship game two weeks ahead.

"The girls want to get another shot at them," Matlock said.

The Bucks have won seven straight games since suffering a 64-49 loss to the Mustangs on Jan. 25, snapping a 49-game win streak. Knowing that the girls were eager to make up for that loss, Matlock made sure they knew the only way to do so was by taking out Perrydale to make sure they earned the No. 2 seed, putting them on the other side of the bracket from Crane.

"They are chomping at the bit to get that chance, and ok, here's that road," Matlock said. You can't get there until you beat Perrydale first. You've got to get on the opposite side of the bracket."

The Buckaroos were up for the challenge, responding with the kind of poise that their head coach was looking for in the postseason.

"It was the calmest I've seen us all year in terms of execution in the moment," Matlock said. "They were really locked in yesterday. (Perrydale) tried to pressure us early and couldn't get much out of it."

The two teams opened the contest relatively evenly, with the Pirates matching every St. Paul bucket with one of their own. But holding onto a 9-8 lead late in the opening period, the Buckaroos leaned hard on their defensive pressure that has been holding teams to under 23 points a game in their current streak of wins.

St. Paul went on a 16-0 run over the next quarter, ballooning their lead to 25-8 and running past the Pirates.

Looking to overcome the large deficit, Perrydale tried to rally from the three-point line but finished 1-of-17 from behind the arc.

"It was pretty much over at that point," Matlock said. "They just couldn't penetrate our defense, and they shot a lot of long balls."

Seniors Isabelle Wyss and Erin Counts led the team in the victory. Wyss was 8-of-11 from the floor with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Counts added an all-around performance with 13 points, seven steals, five assists and four rebounds.

Following the contest, the two were named to the All-Conference First Team. While the pair split Conference Player of the Year honors a year ago, this season Counts was tabbed for the award by the opposing coaches for an all-around impressive statistical season.

Counts led the Bucks with 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. She added per-game averages of 8.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.1 blocks while turning the ball over just 49 times.

"That's an athletic senior for you," Matlock said. "Just puts her nose to the grindstone, and her maturity level has been unbelievable."

Junior Mary Davidson and freshman Anabelle Davidson shared Second Team honors, while Diana Hernandez was named Honorable Mention.

From here on out, the Buckaroos (25-1, 14-0) are in elimination territory. Saturday's win gave the Bucks a bye past the first round, and they will host an opponent to be determined on Friday, Feb. 28.

If the team wins there, it's back to Baker High School for the 1A quarterfinal tournament on March 4-7, where Matlock knows there will be a lot of strong teams looking to knock off the Bucks and prevent them from seeing Crane in the finals.

"Obviously, us and Crane are really good teams," Matlock said. "If you look around the state, there's a lot of teams in that caliber and you can't take anything for granted."

"That first step at Baker is going to be hard. It's not going to be any givens. Both sides are really tough, and the quality of the teams is really there."

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