Sherwood senior Ava Heiden scored 24 points and dominated inside against McMinnville on Tuesday night. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Sherwood senior Ava Heiden scored 24 points and dominated inside against McMinnville on Tuesday night. (Photo by Jon Olson)

SHERWOOD – Sherwood's girls basketball team punctuated its promising late-season run with its most important win of the season Tuesday night.

With a chance to avenge their only loss in the 6A Pacific Conference, the Bowmen responded with a spirited 68-58 home win over first-place McMinnville. Iowa-bound senior post Ava Heiden scored 24 points for Sherwood, which settled the score from losing to the No. 6 Grizzlies 54-46 on Jan. 25.

Since starting the season 2-8, Sherwood has won 10 of its last 11 games. The Bowmen (12-9, 8-1) can earn at least a share of the conference title with McMinnville (19-3, 9-1) by winning their last three games.

“Definitely we wanted to get league champs, or co-champs, at least,” the 6-foot-4 Heiden said. “We definitely wanted to come back and play them on our own turf and just show them what we're capable of.

“We definitely played at a high level, and I don't think we showed that the first time at McMinnville. But today, we just had that extra step. That helped us a lot.”

With so much at stake, the Bowmen needed to contain their emotions and play their game.

“We're superstitious. We don't like talking about it, you know, like putting too much emphasis on one game,” Sherwood coach Matt Sanders said. “But we all knew. We were hungry. We knew we needed this game. It meant everything to the girls.”

The teams traded the lead throughout the first half, which ended with Sherwood junior guard Kylie Yamanaka scoring on a putback to give her team a 29-28 lead.

The Bowmen scored the first seven points of the third quarter – a drive by junior wing Izabella Macris, a steal and layup by Heiden and a three-pointer by Macris – to make it 36-28, and they would not relinquish the lead.

McMinnville twice drew within two points, but Sherwood kept the Grizzlies at arm's length with a swarming defense. Bowmen senior guard Sabrina Flowers scored six consecutive points to open a 52-44 lead early in the fourth quarter, and the advantage grew to as many as 14 points down the stretch.

Junior guard Macie Arzner scored 23 points to lead McMinnville. Considering Arzner went for 33 points and 28 rebounds in the first meeting – making 20 of 23 free throws – the Bowmen were pleased with holding her relatively in check.

“She's tough, man. She's so good,” Sanders said. “I thought we did great. But she's an unbelievable player. She's going to get hers. You've got to try to make it as tough as you possibly can.”

Arzner said the Grizzlies didn't play with enough intensity from the outset.

“It took us a while to get started, to get going,” Arzner said. “And their home gym, you've got the crowd booming. … It would've been nice if we didn't have to play the comeback game in the fourth quarter.”

Macris and Flowers added 15 and 14 points, respectively, for Sherwood, which will use the win to build momentum for a playoff run.

“I think it just gives the girls a little bit of validation of, we think we're a top-10 team,” Sanders said. “McMinnville is really good. So to be able to beat them, it gives the girls more confidence, for sure.”

Heiden said her team's main message was to have fun.

“We've always had that confidence in ourselves that we can show that we're this good,” said Heiden, who is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds this season. “And it just kind of finalized that.”

Heiden used her size to get deep position inside and finish from close range and dominated on defense and on the backboards. She raised her play from the first meeting with McMinnville, when she was limited to 11 points.

“Ava had a great game,” Sanders said. “She was super aggressive, made the right plays and stayed out of foul trouble. When she's on the floor, we're tough.”

Arzner said of Heiden: “Ava's just a beast of a player. She's a powerhouse. Amazing footwork, amazing player. She's going to be great for Iowa. They're an absolute beast team when she's in, and they're pretty good when she's out, too.”

Heiden also showed off her passing ability, twice connecting with Flowers on long outlet passes for easy layups.

“I can just throw it, and I don't have to run down the floor? I like that,” Heiden said with a laugh.

When Sherwood played at McMinnville in the first round of conference play, the Bowmen were still adjusting to a new head coach in Sanders, who took over after Jeff Anderson abruptly resigned Jan. 8.

“We just grew as a team,” Heiden said. “Our camaraderie really came together. I think we're at peak performance right now.”

It helps that they have Heiden to show the way on and off the court.

“She's really positive to everyone,” Macris said. “She's a really good teammate to have. It's fun to watch, too. I just transferred here this year from Newberg, so I was nervous to play with her. But really she's the most unselfish player I've ever played with.”