Lady Pirates blast Loggers in first half of 54-49 loss
The Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates ambushed Vernonia Saturday from the start.
The undefeated Vernonia Lady Loggers were shellshocked in the first quarter, but still rallied to pull out a 54-49 victory that assured the team of the league top seed in the state playoffs.
The Lady Pirates were the first to score in the Northwest League tournament’s title game when senior Jamey Sherman hit a free throw with 6:12 left.
Thirty seconds later, Sarah Phillips’ jumper made it a 3-0 lead, then Maddie Lambert’s fastbreak upped the lead to 5-0 with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
Senior Annie Romig made it a 7-0 run to start off the game with a basket from under the basket with 4:19 left.
Vernonia’s Megan Ely finally ended the shutout with a basket and 4:11 left in the period. Leire Valladores hit a three-pointer to cut the Pirate lead to 7-5.
But Alaina Holm responded with a three-pointer to build the lead back to 10-5 with three minutes.
The teams would exchange baskets, but the Pirates ended the quarter with a 6-0 run with baskets from Holm, Lambert and Caitlyn Scull that gave Neah-Kah-Nie an 18-9 lead over a team that went through the regular league season with a 14-0 record.
Vernonia started the second quarter with two baskets and a free throw, cutting Neah-Kah-Nie’s lead to 18-14.
Holm benched early
However, it was Holm picking up her third foul of the game less than a minute into the quarter that would have the biggest impact.
It would force Neah-Kah-Nie coach Corey Douma to move his senior floor leader the bench.
Scull and Romig responded with baskets to gave the Pirates a 22-14 lead.
After a pair of free throws cut the lead again, Katie Clifford came up with a steal and score play to build it back to a 24-16 lead with five minutes left before the half.
A basket by Scull with four minutes left made it a 26-17 lead, but Vernonia’s Vivianna Bustamante hit a free throw and thirty seconds later added a three-pointer to cut the Neah-Kah-Nie lead to 26-21 with just over three minutes before halftime.
After Sherman hit a basket to take a 28-21 lead, it was Vernonia’s big interior tandem who started a 5-0 run – all at the free throw line. Paige Smith hit a free throw to start the run, but Ely followed with three more and Bustamante cut the lead to 28-26 with her free throw with 26 seconds left.
The Loggers’ run of 17 second quarter points came mostly at the free throw line where they hit 10 of 17 shots from the line.
The Loggers’ rally continued in the third quarter when Smith tied the game at 28-28 three minutes in, then Ely gave Vernonia its first lead with 3:39 left. Morgan Harral added two free throws to give the Loggers a 32-28 lead and a 6-0 run to start the quarter.
Phillips and Romig came up with two quick baskets to tie the game at 32-32 with 2:34 left in the quarter.
After Vernonia regained the lead on Smith’s free throw with 2:24 left, it was Romig’s basket that regained the lead at 34-33 with 2:04 left.
It was the final minute that proved to be a big problem with Pirate turnovers and a 4-0 run by Vernonia as Harral hit two baskets with 28 and two seconds left.
The Pirates came back again in less than 10 seconds when Lambert hit a quick basket on a drive to make it a 37-36 lead.
Then Vernonia responded with a 7-0 run on two baskets by Ely and a three-pointer by Bustamante for a quick 44-36 edge.
Lambert helped rally the Pirates with three free throws in less than 20 seconds that cut the lead to 44-39. After Ely added another Vernonia score, Lambert came back again with another basket to make it 46-41.
Ely made the Vernonia lead 48-41 before Lambert added another free throw after the Loggers lost Smith on her fifth foul with about three minutes left in the game.
When Bustamante hit a basket with 1:47 left, the Loggers had a nine point lead (51-42).
Lambert added a free throw and Romig hit a three-pointer with 49 seconds left to cut the lead to 51-46. Sherman had a three point play with 29 seconds left with a basket and free throw, cutting the lead to 52-49.
The Loggers would close out the final seconds with two more free throws to pull ahead to a 54-49 score.
The Loggers outscored the Pirates in three of the quarter, but the biggest lift for the champions came at the free throw line. Vernonia got 38 tries at the line and left with 17 points. That proved to be the difference in the game.
Neah-Kah-Nie actually did better from floor than Vernonia, getting 40 points on 17 baskets and a pair of three-pointers. Vernonia picked up 37 points from the floor.
Lambert led the Pirates with 13 points before she fouled out in the final seconds of the game. Romig added 11, while Holm finished with seven. Sherman and Scull each put in six points, while Phillips had four. Clifford finished with two points.
Holm, who spent most of the second and third quarters sitting because of fouls, got all of her points in the first quarter.
Vernonia was led by Ely’s 16 points in scoring, while Valladores put in 12 and Smith finished with 10 before fouling out. Harral scored eight points, while Bustamante put in seven.
“We were hot. We hadn’t shot that well in a long time,” Neah-Kah-Nie coach Corey Douma said after the awards ceremonies. “But fouls caught up with us and free throws help them (Vernonia) get back into it free throw by free throw.
“But we started off shooting great. Wow! It was awesome. I told them at halftime that sometimes we don’t score 28 points in a whole game, so to score it in the first half is a win right there,” the coach said.
“I was happy they came out not nervous, playing free and easy and hard. They seemed to do that the whole game.
“We got into some foul trouble that we couldn’t really shake and those two big (Vernonia) girls are tough, really tough,” he said.
Defending Vernonia leaves a team with some hard choices, the coach said. If a team focuses on stopping the inside game, the Loggers have some outside shooters that can hit three-pointers. If the teams focus on stopping the outside game, then that opens up the inside for Ely and Smith, Douma explained. “You got to try and take both away and that can expose you sometimes,” the coach said.
“I think we battled as hard as we could. I’m proud. We were down by nine with a few minutes to go and we cut it to three.
“We never gave up and that was fun to see,” he added.
“We wanted to slow down the big girls,” Douma said. “I think we did a good job of that in the first quarter. They had those three-point shooters that we had to be aware of. I thought we did a great job.
We had a tough time getting the ball off the boards. Those girls are tall, they’re big. When Alaina got her third foul early in the second quarter, we had to adjust,” the coach said.
The biggest impact came at the free throw line in the first half where Vernonia had 20 shots while Neah-Kah-Nie had four, he added.
Neah-Kah-Nie plays sixth-ranked Grant Union Friday
Neah-Kah-Nie threw a giant scare into Vernonia at Saturday’s Northwest League tournament.
It earned the 15th ranked Lady Pirates a 720-mile round trip to John Day for a Friday play-off game against the Prospectors.
Grant Union finished second in the Wapiti League with a 10-2 record to third-ranked Burns (12-0). The Lady Prospectors have a 18-6 record this year, with three losses to Burns, including a narrow 53-49 loss in the league tournament title game Saturday at Eastern Oregon University.
For Vernonia, the victory Saturday meant a first-round home game against ninth-ranked Bonanza (20-6), the third-place team from the Mountain View Conference. Bonanza needed two overtimes to beat Oakland 52-51 Saturday.
For the Pirates, a win over the sixth-ranked Prospectors would not guarantee a home playoff game. They would face the winner of the Burns (24-2) and Myrtle Point (16-8) first-round battle in Burns.
The third-place team from the Northwest League, Faith Bible, travels to play Western Mennonite Friday. The Falcons take on the Lady Pioneers, ranked fourth in the final OSAA poll of the year, with a 19-7 season mark, but are the number-two team from the Tri-River Conference.
The rest of the first round of the playoffs has the unlikely champion from the Columbia Basin traveling to play top-ranked Kennedy . Irrigon upset Weston-McEwen by a 46-43 score in overtime in the title game of the league tournament Saturday. The Lady Knights are bringing a losing record (11-12) into the playoffs against the Trojans.
The winner of the Kennedy-Irrigon game will play the winner of Vernonia-Bonanza in the second round, while Imbler travels to play Regis Friday for a chance to face the winner of the Western Mennonite-Faith Bible contest.
Monroe will host Bandon Friday, with the winner playing the victor from the Weston-McEwen game against Lost River.
The winners of the second-round games will earn a spot in the 2A Elite Eight tournament held in Pendleton every year.