After finishing the regular season 22-3 and entering the Class 5A playoffs as the No. 3 seed, Wilsonville was expected to advance to the state tournament at Oregon State University.
But that did not make the accomplishment any less rewarding, after the Wildcats defeated No. 14 Willamette 73-42 Friday in the first round of the playoffs.
"Last year was the first time we'd been in a long time," said Wilsonville coach Justin Duke of the state tournament held at Gill Coliseum. "It's a big accomplishment to go over there and be in the final eight. It's a testament to the kids. We've progressively been getting better every year and this year is no exception, and we had a shot last year and we've got another shot this year. It's just fun to be a part of that and see the kids recognized for all the hard work they've put in."
While the Wildcats led for most of their first round game, Willamette did not go away quietly.
The Wolverines trailed 34-23 at halftime, but had no answer for Wilsonville point guard Sydney Burns, who scored 17 points in the first half.
"We knew Willamette would come out really hard, so our goal was to be the more aggressive team ever since the get-go," Burns said.
Willamette was then within 45-33 with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter, before the Wildcats went on a 16-2 run to pull away.
"I'm proud of the kids," Duke said. "It's tough, especially when we were a big favorite like we were. The pressure was on us. I thought the kids responded really well to that."
Wanting to deny Willamette senior post Natalie Willoughby the ball, Wilsonville's defense constantly pressured the Wolverines. While Willoughby did finish with 21 points, the Wildcats ultimately wore Willamette down.
"They only played six kids in the first half and we played 10 or 11," Duke said. "That's been a strength all year, just that depth that we are developing. We were just wearing them down. It felt like we were going to break them at some point. It took a little bit longer than we wanted, but we got there."
Wilsonville sophomore Karina Borgen came off the bench to score 12 points in the second half.
"I was a lot more nervous coming into this game because I knew there was a bigger chance of me playing a lot more, and a possibility of me having more of an impact," said Borgen, who played in the Wildcats first round playoff game last season as a freshman, and even made the trip to Corvallis, but did not dress for the state tournament. "First half, I was a little bit off. I think my nerves just got to me. In the second half, I just realized this is our last home game, just go all out and give it my all. I think I played more confident in the second half."
Senior Renee Lee added 12 points on four 3-pointers against Willamette.
Wilsonville, which finished third at the state tournament last year, opens the 2020 tournament Tuesday against No. 6 Lebanon (18-6).
"We've all had the goal to win a state championship this year, and we've been really focused on getting that," Burns said. "Now it comes to the last three games and finishing strong. I think we all have that same mindset and we've just got to go at it together."
If both teams win their first game, the Wildcats would then face NW Oregon Conference rival La Salle Prep, the No. 2 seed, Thursday in the semifinals.
The Falcons defeated Wilsonville in the semifinals a year ago on their way to winning the state championship. The two teams then split their two regular season matchups this season, both winning at home.
La Salle dominated Ashland 97-41 in the first round of the playoffs to advance to the elite eight.
"We thought we'd be seeing La Salle again, and they're a really good team, so we'll have to prepare for them," Burns said. "It's good that we've played them before, but they know a lot about us as well. It will be a really fun matchup if we get to play against them. But we just have to focus on that next game and then one game at a time. We can't get too ahead of ourselves and take anything for granted."
Silverton (22-3) enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The state championship game is scheduled for next Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Borgen has already played for one state title this school year, losing to Crescent Valley in penalty kicks in the 5A soccer championship game.
"I want this one so much worse," Borgen said. "If we win the next game and they (La Salle) win the next game, it's us that have to take them off their throne. There's no one else. We always knew there's the likelihood that we would play them three times. We know that if we're going to get to the championship, they're a team that's in our way."
More photos at derekwiley.smugmug.com.
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