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MONROE — Central Linn and Monroe’s girls basketball teams know they’ll be battle-tested when it’s time to earn spots in the 2A state tournament.

Monroe used a decisive third quarter to create a cushion Wednesday night then held off Central Linn for a 54-41 Central Valley Conference win.

Monroe (20-3, 12-1) is fourth and Central Linn (19-5, 9-4) sixth in this week’s 2A coaches poll.

The Dragons split two games with second-ranked Oakland, another Central Valley team. The Cobras lost two games to Oakland by a combined five points.

“We’re so close. It’s just one or two shots or one of two calls to give us that extra push,” Central Linn coach Marcus Campbell said. “Five losses, and they’re all to number two, three and four in the state. It’s disappointing, but we know we’re a good team. The girls know that.

“We expect to be right there at the end, and maybe we’re saving that big win when it really, really matters.”

Both teams finish the regular season Friday. Then it’s league playoffs next week, state playoffs the week after and then, if they’re fortunate enough and play well at the right time, the state tournament in Pendleton.

“We have as good a shot as anybody,” Monroe coach Tony Parker said. “We have a lot of good players. The teams over there are going to be really good, but we can hold our own.”

Parker said a strong league will help his team when it plays its biggest game — or games — in the coming weeks. The Dragons have always had Lost River or Oakland to battle at the top in recent years, but the bottom of the league is stronger than in the past.

Wednesday, Monroe’s Kyndal Martin had a game-high 22 points, including 13 in the first half. Mirtha Lopez added 11, Ashley Sutton eight and Tyler Warden six.

Colleen McLaughlin had 16 points and Sarah Conner eight to lead Central Linn.

Monroe defeated Central Linn by just three points when the teams met Jan. 15 in Halsey, and it looked for a long time like it might be that close again.

But the Dragons ramped up their defense and saw more shots fall after halftime, turning a one-point halftime lead to a 39-30 edge after three quarters. Central Linn had five turnovers in the third after just three combined in the first half.

“We usually pick it up in the second half,” Martin said. “We come out with a lot more intensity. I think that’s where those steals coming from.”

Monroe went on a 12-2 run after McLaughlin’s 3-pointer to open the second-half scoring gave Central Linn a 25-23 lead.

The Dragons got scoring from six different players in the third, with Warden, Sutton, Martin, Lopez, Laura Young and Chloe May all contributing.

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“That’s what we’ve been looking for all season,” Parker said of the scoring balance. “Unfortunately we haven’t gotten it all season. Kyndal has had to carry us a lot, way more than I would have liked. She put us on our back a few times and carries is through.”

Campbell said offense is where his team’s struggles in the third were centered.

“We didn’t match up with how well they shot the ball,” he said. “We were trying to focus on certain kids, and even those kids had pretty good games.

Once they got the lead, we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and they couldn’t miss.”

Monroe’s 44-28 loss at Oakland last Friday ended an 11-game winning streak and a 68-game league winning streak dating to a 33-21 home loss to Oakland on Feb. 11, 2014. Oakland pulled even with Monroe in the Central Valley standings with the victory.

Parker credited Oakland while noting that his team didn’t shoot well — missing 16 straight second-half shots at one point — and wasn’t at the top of its game on defense.

The Oakers defeated the Dragons in a league playoff game in Monroe last season.

Monroe is chasing a fifth straight trip to the 2A state tournament. The Dragons were sixth in 2015 and fifth in 2016 before an undefeated season and state championship in 2017. Monroe was second to Kennedy last season.

Should they remain tied for the league lead at the end of the regular season Friday, Monroe and Oakland will play a league tiebreaker.

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Sports Reporter