FOREST GROVE — As the Philomath High girls basketball players exited the locker room with tears streaking down their faces, sophomore Mia Rust waited for the entire team to gather in the hallway before proclaiming a message of confidence.
“We’re going to get third place,” Rust said while embracing her teammates.
Following a back-and-forth semifinal that saw the Warriors and second-seeded Baker battle all game long, it was the Bulldogs that tiptoed their way to a 61-56 win in the OSAA 4A Tournament at Forest Grove High School.
“We left a little too much on the board as far as our deficit,” PHS coach Ben Silva said. “We missed some shots we normally make and our shooting wasn’t what it had been all season. You have to give a lot credit to Baker. They’re a really tough team and they make it really difficult on offense."
Philomath (23-4) will face the loser of Newport/Marist Catholic on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. with third place on the line.
“We’re going to come out tomorrow, give it our all, and we’re going to take third place and guarantee we will be back here next year,” Rust said, holding back tears. “I know we lost today, and while it hurts, we’re going to look back on it and be really proud of ourselves.”
Added Emma Pankalla: “It was an experience thing. We haven’t been in the state tournament before and hadn’t played this level of competition consistently so that threw us off a little bit.”
Following a 45-43 win over Banks on Thursday in the quarterfinal round, the Warriors were determined and poised to reach state, but couldn’t find the go-ahead bucket late.
“I’m no less proud of the girls tonight than I was on Thursday,” Silva said. “They came back and a lot of teams would have quit being down 10 late. Somehow we battled back, tied the ball game and had a chance to take the lead, but couldn’t get a bucket.”
Trailing by 13 with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third, it was looking like the Bulldogs might run away with the contest before the Warriors made a late comeback that was nearly enough. Philomath erased a 10-point Baker lead and tied the game at 54 with 1:32 remaining.
The Warriors had their chances down the stretch, but the go-ahead bucket eluded the Warriors as Baker outscored them 7-2 in the final moments to put the game on ice.
Offensive rebounds and free throws were the trouble spots of the Warriors against the Bulldogs as they were outscored 24-10 at the free-throw line and were bested 20-12 in offensive rebounds.
“That’s definitely the difference in the game,” Silva said. “Part of the free throw disparity was because they attacked us and were able to put the ball on the ground and finish around the rim. We were kept from the paint quite a bit.”
Rust, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, echoed her coach’s comments, noting that at times the Warriors inability to hit shots got in their heads.
“We couldn’t finish very well,” Rust said. “Our lay-ins weren't going in, our free throws weren’t going in, and we got in our own heads a little bit.”
With a berth in the state championship game on the line, both teams came out focused and firing as back and forth first quarter saw the Warriors hold a 17-14 lead.
Baker seized the momentum and the lead in the second quarter by outscoring Philomath 16-6 to take a 30-23 edge at the halftime break. The 10 point difference in the second quarter turned out to be the difference in the contest as Baker was able to play with a lead for most of the second half while the Warriors were forced to play catch up.
The Bulldogs’ second quarter momentum carried into the third as they extended their lead to 47-39 heading into the fourth. Crisp ball-movement led to open looks for Baker who was able to capitalize offensively, and stifle the Warriors offense defensively en-route to a nine point lead.