By JOHN GUNTHER/THE WORLD
COOS BAY — The Battle of the Bulldogs lived up to its billing as Nyssa outlasted Sutherlin 48-44 in the semifinals of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 3A girls basketball tournament at Marshfield High School on Friday.
Nyssa overcame a huge game by Sutherlin’s Micah Wicks and foul trouble to advance to the championship game against Eastern Oregon League rival Burns on Saturday night at the Pirate Palace.
“Holy cow, we did it,” Nyssa’s Malerie Long said after the game. Asked for her reaction, she said, “I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Nyssa denied Sutherlin a shot in a third straight championship game, making big plays down the stretch to win in what was a tight game all the way.
Gracie Johnson had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Nyssa, but it was her teammates who rose to the occasion while she was on the bench with four fouls for the first half of the fourth quarter, which started with Sutherlin leading 36-34.
Brooklyn Johns attributed the win to Nyssa’s mental toughness, “no matter who’s on the floor.”
“It’s a team effort,” Long added. “No team can win with just one player.”
Long tied the game for Nyssa with a jumper early in the final quarter, and put her squad in front with a layup a minute later. Nyssa led 40-38 when Long added another bucket and then fed Johnson for a layin and a six-point lead.
Sutherlin kept things in suspense, though, with Wicks burying a long three-pointer and Madison Wagner adding another that made it 45-44 with 1:35 to go.
Johnson added another basket and Wicks missed two three-pointers that could have tied the contest. Laney Hartley added a clinching free throw with eight seconds remaining and the final buzzer sparked a huge celebration for Nyssa and its huge cheering section that crossed the state for a chance to see the team win a state title.
“What a game,” Nyssa coach Jeremy Chamberlain said. “That’s what state tournaments are supposed to be like.”
Long had nine points and eight rebounds for Nyssa and was tasked with bringing the ball up against Sutherlin’s pressure. Johns had eight points and eight rebounds and Hartley also scored eight.
Nyssa overcame 28 points from Wicks, who hit four three-pointers and made play after play for Sutherlin.
“That’s a really good Sutherlin team we just beat,” Chamberlain said. “Micha is really good.”
Wicks was among many Sutherlin girls who exited the locker room battling tears after their dreams of a title ended.
“I haven’t had a player like that in a long time,” Sutherlin coach Josh Grotting said, adding that he still considers her the best in 3A. “She’s taking it hard. She remembers a few of the late shots that missed and not all the ones that kept us in it.”
Grotting said the championship game was everything he expected.
“We knew it was going to come down to one or two possessions,” he said. “Nyssa made some big plays.
“We had our chances. A couple rolls this way or bounces that way and that could be us (celebrating).”
Instead, it is Nyssa preparing for the title contest.
“It’s going to be an exciting game for sure,” Long said, adding that her team needs to get over the emotional high of Friday’s win quickly.
“We’ve got that one over, it’s time to start preparing for the next one,” she said.
Burns 43, Oregon Episcopal 26: Burns reached the title game by ending the Cinderella run of the Aardvarks behind tough defense and the strong inside play of Akylah Kaino.
Oregon Episcopal had been the story of the postseason, winning big games in the Lewis & Clark League playoffs just to reach the state playoffs and then knocking off unbeaten Willamina on its home floor to reach the tournament. The Aardvarks then beat Creswell in the quarterfinals Thursday, but couldn’t muster enough offense to also knock off Burns.
OES star Cayton Smith had 18 points, but struggled with her shooting against the tight defense of Kaitlyn Wright, and the Aardvarks couldn’t get consistent scoring out of any other players.
Wright relished the role of guarding Smith.
“I love defense and I love challenges,” she said.
Wright is one of five seniors for the Hilanders who will be playing in the championship game for the first time.
“I’m just really excited,” she said.
The inside play of Kaino was key in the HIlanders pulling away in the second half after both teams struggled to find the hoop the opening two quarters, which found Burns up 15-13 at the break.
Kaino finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds in the win.
“I am beyond proud of her,” Wright said. “I’ve never seen a freshman play like her and have the skills she has.”
Burns has been a regular in the tournament, but hasn’t been in the final since back-to-back trips in 2015 and 2016.
“I’m just proud of these girls,” Burns coach Kris Sanders said. “They fought through a tough first half. We weren’t getting what we wanted.
“OES is a good defensive team. They are in-your-face.”
Burns made some halftime adjustments and moved the ball around in the second half, shooting better than 50 percent. Kaitlyn Wright and Kaya Dobson each finished with eight points and Ashley Wright scored six.