It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Not like this.
But end it did for the West Linn girls basketball team — and eight days earlier than the Lions wanted, wished or expected. West Linn came up on the wrong end of a 57-53 loss to McMinnville in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs at West Linn High School on Friday, March 6.
In the process, the third-ranked Lions saw their 10-game winning streak snapped and saw their season fall short of a berth in the Class 6A state tournament. Instead, the No. 14 Grizzlies will advance to state, facing No. 6 South Salem in their opener at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
"I think it was really evident we battled our hearts out out there and we played for each other," said West Linn junior point guard and team captain Cami Fulcher, who scored five points in the loss, along with five steals, four assists and one rebound. "I'm really proud of us, no matter what the calls were or what was going on."
"They beat us fair and square so I don't want to take away their props, but we didn't play our best," said West Linn sophomore guard Alana Molden, who scored two points and added one rebound and one assist before leaving with a sprained ankle. "We left our hearts on the (court). I'm just proud of our team — we're like sisters to me."
With the loss, the Lions — who finished sixth at state a year ago and third the year before that — ended their season at 20-6 after winning the Three Rivers League. McMinnville, meanwhile, won its third straight game, improved to 18-8 overall after placing second in the Pacific Conference, and secured its first tournament berth since 2005.
The Lions started fast on Friday and grabbed a 10-4 lead when junior guard Payton Shelstad hit a floating jumpshot from the left baseline with 5 minutes, 24 seconds to go in the first quarter.
But McMinnville — as it did all night — showed remarkable resiliency. The Grizzlies, led by junior forward Kylee Arzner's brilliant 30-point performance, closed the quarter with a 9-8 edge over the final 5:06, with Arzner scoring four points to bring her team within 18-13 at the end of the period.
The Grizzlies carried their momentum into the second quarter, put West Linn junior post Aaronette Vonleh on the bench with two fouls and opened the period with a 12-2 run that gave them a 25-20 edge when sophomore Laney Hyder made a steal and set up senior guard Emily Boggs for a fast break basket with 1:57 remaining in the half. Arzner scored the first seven points of that stretch and Boggs the final three, while the Lions got a late 3-pointer from junior guard Audrey Roden and a drive from Shelstad to bring their team within 27-25 at halftime.
With Vonleh back on the court and the Lions actively looking for their 6-foot-3 post, West Linn appeared to take control in the third quarter. West Linn outscored the Grizzlies 16-5 in the first 5:56 of the half, with Vonleh hitting five straight shots, sophomore Campbell Sheffield adding a three-point play and Fulcher knocking down a 3-pointer. Vonleh's last basket gave the Lions a 41-32 edge with 2:04 to go in the period.
But McMinnville came back strong again, with Arzner hitting a "three" from the right corner, senior Gretchen Sorenson knocking down a baseline jumpshot, Arzner turning in a three-point play, and on the next possession, Arzner drilling a pull-up 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game at 43-43 with six seconds left in the period.
The game was still dead-even at 45-45 when Fulcher made a steal and set up Vonleh for a fast break basket with 6:26 remaining in the game, but the Grizzlies took over down the stretch.
Arzner answered with a pull-up "three" from the top of the key, fed senior Grace Bliven for a backdoor layin, then saw Bliven hit two free throws for a 52-45 edge with 3:24 left on the clock.
The Lions weren't quite done, however. They came back with a Roden foul shot, two Fulcher free throws and a Roden drive into the lane that cut McMinnville's edge to 52-50 with 1:33 to go.
But West Linn got no closer. The Grizzlies pushed their edge to 55-50 on one foul shot by senior Hannah Galan and two from Arzner, but after Roden buried a "three" to make it 55-53 with 21 seconds left, Fulcher missed a tough layin attempt in traffic, Arzner grabbed the rebound and converted two free throws with two seconds left to end the game.
As painful as their loss was, the Lions were proud of their efforts along the way.
"I think this year we just really came together," Fulcher said. "Last year, we were pretty young, but I think we grew as a group and … we came together this year."
"We fought really hard, everyone on our team," Molden said. "I'm just so proud of how hard we fought, even though we didn't get the right outcome."
Arzner led all scorers with 30 points (on 9 of 17 shooting from the field with four 3-pointers and an 8 of 10 day at the foul line), along with six rebounds, three assists and one steal. Sorenson added eight points, four rebounds, one assist and one block.
For West Linn, Roden scored 19 points (on 7 of 19 shooting from the field with four "threes" and 1 of 2 free throws), along with four steals and three rebounds. Vonleh added 16 points (on 8 of 9 shooting from the field), along with two rebounds.
In addition to McMinnville's solid play, the Lions also suffered from a 13-4 scoring deficit at the free throw line, that after being whistled for 22 fouls to McMinnville's nine.
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