After playing their best game of the season a week ago in a 50-14 home win Jan. 15 over the Gaston Greyhounds, the Neah-Kah-Nie High School girls basketball team seemed to be playing with a higher confidence level.
By Mike Weber
For the Headlight-Herald
The Pirates (4-6 Northwest League, 5-9 overall) were unable to sustain their recent momentum as they got outscored by a combined margin of 95-33 in two disappointing weekend losses. After losing at home Friday 50-17 to the No. 14 ranked league leading Portland Christian Royals (8-1 NWL, 12-6), Neah-Kah-Nie had hoped to bounce back and get a win Saturday against the City Christian Lions (7-3, 10-6).
Prior to the contest, the No. 37 ranked Pirates probably felt like a win against the Lions would be highly possible too. Neah-Kah-Nie won 38-36 over City Christian in an earlier home matchup on Dec. 12, 2018. For some reason though, this second contest between the two squads wasn’t even close as the No. 21 ranked Lions won 45-16 Saturday at City Christian High School in Portland. It marked the fewest amount of points scored in a game by Neah-Kah-Nie this year.
City Christian had control of the game while leading from start-to-finish. The Lions, the third place team in the Northwest League, jumped in front 15-0 and forced a timeout by Pirates coach Corey Douma. City Christian utitilized a quick and aggressive full court press to disrupt the Pirates offense and get steals. The Lions were able force a number of turnovers with their solid defense and they converted steals into scores after transitioning from defense to offense.
“They (City Christian) have improved a lot since the first time we played them,” Douma said. “They’re a tough team and I knew at the beginning of the year that they would be one of the top three teams. This is how they normally play with their very aggressive defense and good outside shooting. We didn’t handle their full court press very well and that’s something that we have to work on in practice and try to get better at. They didn’t expect to lose to us in the earlier game and I knew that they wanted to get a little revenge.”
The Lady Pirates finally got on the scoreboard and avoided a first quarter scoring shutout when senior Mara Soans (two points) connected on a jumper in the lane with 49 seconds left, making in 15-2, which was the score after one quarter.
“It was a rough game, but I believe in our team and I believe that we’ll continue to improve and get better,” Soans said, one of seven Pirate seniors. “They (City Christian) improved a lot since the earlier matchup we had. I know that we’re capable of playing much better than what we showed today though.”
NKN responded well at the outset of the second quarter and perhaps had glimmer of hope for a possible comeback effort in a 6-2 run, closing the gap to single digits at 17-8 with 3:02 left in the quarter. Sophomore Kyla Huntley (four points) scored consecutive baskets in the lane to help provide NKN with some momentum.
“It was kind of the highlight of the game for us at that point,” Huntley said. “I felt like maybe we put a little too much pressure on ourselves and we just didn’t play with a high energy level for the entire game like we should have. We definitely have some things that we need to continue to work on in practice in order to become a better team. We kind of expected to have a similar performance like when we played them earlier and our coaches (Douma, Mike Wantland, Jenna Archibald, Erick White) expected that too. It was a little disappointing and I thought we would play better.”
City Christian responded with a 9-0 run though to regain a double-digit advantage and build a 26-8 halftime lead. The Lions momentum continued in the third as they had another offensive scoring burst in an 8-0 run to go ahead 34-8. Senior Avery Smith (two points) hit a jumper in the lane making it 34-10, but City Christian built a 40-10 margin after three quarters.
With the outcome of the contest obviously favoring the Lions, one good thing was that all the Pirates players were able to get lots of playing time, including freshman Jordan White (one point) and Emma Miller (two points).
“I’m not really sure what happened, but we just need to work on some things in practice,” Miller said.
NKN will face another strong opponent in its next contest Wendesday on the road against the No. 19 ranked Vernonia Loggers (7-2, 8-7) at 6 p.m. NKN plays the Knappa Loggers (3-6, 4-12) in its next home game at 6 p.m. Friday. The Pirates won 48-39 over Knappa back on Dec. 18 and should have a good opportunity to get another victory.
“We played Vernonia really tough the last time we faced them (a 39-18 loss Dec. 14, 2018) and we actually had a halftime lead,” Duoma said. “We just couldn’t maintain our momentum in the second half. If we can win three of our remaining games, then I think that would be a pretty good way to conclude the regular season.”
There’s six games remaining on the regular season schedule, which concludes Feb. 7. Pirates are currently in sixth place in the nine-team NWL and the top-six squads qualify for the NWL District Playoffs in February.
NKN has a good chance to hold onto sixth place and earn a district playoff spot for the fourth time in the last five years. The Pirates have won games versus the bottom three teams (Knappa, Columbia Christian, Gaston) in the standings and they’ll play each squad again. Unless they get an upset win against one of their other three opponents (Vernonia, Faith Bible, Nestucca), the Pirates will very likely finish with a 7-9 league record and remain in sixth for a playoff spot.