It wasn't long ago that Sutherlin seemed to have an iron grip on 4A girls basketball, winning four consecutive championships from 2014 to 2017.
Since moving to 3A in 2018-19, though, the Bulldogs have gotten close, they just haven't been able to close the deal. They fell in the 2020 final and the championship game of the 2021 culminating week tournament to a Clatskanie powerhouse led by Shelby Blodgett and Olivia Sprague.
But third-seeded Sutherlin (24-1) is back for another shot this year, and the Bulldogs' familiar nemesis no longer stands in the way as they prepare for the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 3A tournament Thursday through Saturday at Marshfield High School.
“As long as there's not a Sprague or a Blodgett,” said Bulldogs coach Josh Grotting, noting that both players have graduated and the Tigers' three-year reign in 3A is over.
Senior-less Sutherlin lost about half of its offense from last season in guard Jadyn Vermillion and center Amy Dickover – both 3A first-team selections – but has retooled around junior point guard Micah Wicks. The 5-foot-5 Wicks, the Far West League player of the year, is averaging 22 points, six assists and five steals.
“There's not a kid at the 3A level playing the way she's playing right now,” Grotting said. “She's really developed into an all-around great player. Last year I harped on her a little bit, not that she's a terrible defender, just not what I thought she could be. And now she's completely turned that around this year.
“The scoring's always been there for her. She's had to do a little bit more of it this year. It's fun to watch her. Her decision-making in the open court, it's great. She sees things that I don't.”
Freshman center Addyson Clark (6-1) has provided a boost, averaging 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
“I forget she's a freshman,” Grotting said of Clark, a Far West first-team pick. “Super athletic kid, extremely intense. People expect her to score inside, but she also has a really nice touch from outside. It's nice to have a kid like that to move around in our offense.”
Junior guard Ava Gill and sophomore wing Josie Vermillion (5-10) were named to the Far West first and second teams, respectively. Vermillion averages nine rebounds.
Sutherlin has won 15 in a row since losing to 2A Gervais 41-39 in a tournament at Salem Academy. Grotting said the loss was a turning point for the Bulldogs.
“We should have lost that game by 20,” Grotting said. “We came out not intense, almost like, well, the name on our jersey, they're going to roll over. And Gervais did such a good job and just physically dominated us. It was good to refocus.”
Sutherlin battled past scrappy Yamhill-Carlton, the No. 14 seed, to win 46-42 in the round of 16. The Bulldogs weren't on top of their game, showing their lack of postseason experience.
“It was good for us,” Grotting said. “I forgot that besides the two juniors, none of them had really played in a playoff game where there was a lot of responsibility on them. I feel like we did a bunch of growing up.”
The Bulldogs have come a long way in finding their identity since the start of the season.
“It's almost going back to more so our groups in 2013, 2014 and 2015, where we really didn't have a dominant inside presence,” Grotting said. “I think we're more athletic overall than we've been in a while.”
Sutherlin meets No. 6 Amity – a team it defeated 47-17 in the Salem Academy tournament-- in a quarterfinal Thursday night. If the Bulldogs win, they could end up facing No. 2 Nyssa in the semifinals.
Forgive them if they look over their shoulders for Clatskanie, which fell to Nyssa 68-41 in the round of 16.
“That's something that they definitely think about,” Grotting said of the finals losses to the Tigers. “We've brought that up when we're having a bad practice or we're a little sluggish.”
3A girls quarterfinals, Thursday, Marshfield HS
No. 16 Oregon Episcopal (13-9) vs. No. 9 Creswell (12-9): Oregon Episcopal has become the Cinderella story of the postseason, surprising Riverdale 47-42 in overtime to win the Lewis & Clark League district title, then stunning top-seeded and previously unbeaten Willamina 65-58 in overtime in the round of 16. Junior point guard Cayton Smith (22.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 steals, 5.0 assists), the league co-player of the year, scored 39 points against Willamina. Creswell won at Douglas 50-46 in overtime to earn its spot, getting 24 points from senior Emme Whitson, who averaged 21 points in Mountain Valley Conference play.
No. 5 Santiam Christian (19-6) vs. No. 4 Burns (20-6): Santiam Christian, which lost to Sutherlin in the semifinals of the culminating week tournament last year, squares off against Burns, a quarterfinalist a year ago. Santiam Christian junior Tayla Yost, a 5-10 wing who was named the Mountain Valley player of the year and made the all-defensive team, averages 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Junior wing Maddie Fields, also a first-team pick, averages 14.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. Burns finished runner-up to Nyssa in the Eastern Oregon League. The Hilanders dropped two of three meetings to the Bulldogs, but are the only Oregon team to beat them, winning 55-38 at home Jan. 25. Burns features senior forward Kaitlyn Wright.
No. 6 Amity (18-7) vs. No. 3 Sutherlin (24-1): A rematch from Jan. 1, when Sutherlin dominated the Warriors 47-17 in a tournament at Salem Academy. The Bulldogs, runners-up in 2020 and second place in the culminating week tournament last year, have the Far West League player of the year in junior point guard Micah Wicks (22.0 points). Amity is in the tournament for the first time since finishing as runner-up in 2016. Warriors junior shooting guard Ellie McMullen is averaging 14.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 steals and was named the PacWest Conference player of the year.
No. 10 Brookings-Harbor (14-10) vs. No. 2 Nyssa (24-2): Nyssa, which beat Brookings-Harbor 45-42 in the quarterfinals of the culminating week tournament last year before falling to Clatskanie in the semifinals, has lost only to Melba (Idaho) and Burns this season. The Bulldogs have a dominant inside force in 6-5 junior Gracie Johnson (15.1 points, 10.3 rebounds), who holds multiple Division I offers. Nyssa won its only title in 2007. Brookings-Harbor, a semifinalist in 2020, is led by 5-10 junior forward Ashlyn Schofield (10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) and junior guard Zoe Carlson (9.3 points). In the round of 16, the Bruins trailed host Harrisburg by one point inside two minutes left before finishing with a 9-0 run to win 41-33.
3A boys quarterfinals, Thursday, North Bend HS
No. 9 Pleasant Hill (18-6) vs. No. 1 Westside Christian (23-2): It is the best season in school history for Westside Christian of Tigard, which lost in the quarterfinals of the culminating week tournament last year after six consecutive losing seasons. The Eagles' only losses came inside the tough Lewis & Clark League, falling to Oregon Episcopal 51-45 and De La Salle North Catholic 56-54 in the district final. Jaymeson Ye, a 6-4 senior guard who averages 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals, was voted the league player of the year. Pleasant Hill, a semifinalist in 2019, has the Mountain Valley Conference co-player of the year in senior guard Braedyn Cantrell (16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds). Freshman guard Gavin Inglish (9.8 points) was first-team all-conference.
No. 13 Umatilla (16-9) vs. No. 4 Cascade Christian (20-5): Cascade Christian has one of the state's top college prospects in 6-11 sophomore center Austin Maurer, the Far West League player of the year who is averaging 24 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Maurer suffered a separated sternum two weeks prior to last year's culminating week tournament and did not play as the Challengers finished as runners-up for the second year in a row. Senior Cody Reece (14.0 points) is the team's floor general. Umatilla is making its first quarterfinal appearance since 2001, when it made the semifinals. Senior forward Oscar Campos (12.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals) leads the Vikings. Freshman guard Michael Montez had 19 points as Umatilla beat Santiam Christian in the round of 16.
No. 6 Vale (21-5) vs. No. 3 Dayton (18-7): Vale, which lost to Cascade Christian in the quarterfinals of the culminating week tournament last year, has not lost to an Oregon 3A team this season. The Vikings dropped two games to 4A Baker, one to 4A La Grande and single games to Idaho teams. Vale has won a state-record 12 football titles but never won a boys basketball championship. Senior Kade Kurata and sophomore Colten Stepleton each scored 15 points in Vale's 60-42 win over Amity in the round of 16. Dayton has appeared in the last seven season-ending tournaments, winning titles in 2015 and 2017. The Pirates lost to De La Salle North Catholic in the quarterfinals last year. They have a fourth-year starter in Tyler Spink, the team's leading scorer at 15 points per game.
No. 7 Oregon Episcopal (15-8) vs. No. 2 De La Salle North Catholic (22-2): The Lewis & Clark League rivals meet for the fourth time this season. De La Salle North Catholic has beaten the Aardvarks 73-43, 62-50 and 77-48. The Knights have played in five finals since 2014, winning titles in 2018 and 2019. They lost to Yamhill-Carlton in the semifinals last year. De La Salle North Catholic sophomore guard TJ Latu, a first-team all-league pick, averages 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. Oregon Episcopal, the 2019 champion, has bounced back after finishing 4-8 last season. The Aardvarks hold a 51-45 win over top-seeded Westside Christian. They are led by junior guard Henry Gewecke (14.0 points) and senior forward Connor Mansfield (12.0 points, 6.6 rebounds).