CORVALLIS — Putting it all on the court at Gill Coliseum on March 6, the Panthers (11-3, Mid-Willamette Conference, 22-6) established a good defensive strategy against the Bend Lava Bears (11-1, Intermountain Conference, 22-6) until the fourth quarter, where Bend took over and found their own energy, gaining the upper hand and defeating the Panthers, 26-23.
The start of the game appeared promising: The Panthers were up by six at the end of first quarter and as the game progressed, they kept that gap open, using some foul trouble by the Lava Bears to stretch it a little farther.
Third quarter, the Panthers’ grip started to slip; their offense couldn’t seem to find any gaps in the Bears’ defense, causing long stretches of stationary dribbling and desperate attempts to shoot the ball.
“We came out strong but it didn’t end that way,” junior Annika Riddell said. “I think just the offense we were running kinda slowed things down and also slowed down our energy.”
Being in a different stadium, one that’s much bigger than their home court, added a little pressure to the evening, Riddell said. And with such a large crowd turnout for both sides of the team, she said it made the evening a different experience than what they were used to.
Meagan Mendazona led the game with six points; Lexy Barba followed with five, and Katelyn Trevino contributed four. Elizabeth Chavez scored two points and nabbed five steals.
Toward the end of the third quarter, the teams were tied, 19 all. A two-pointer by Katelyn Trevino put the Panthers back into the lead, their determination to win evident in their intensity.
“Defensively, we had a good game plan,” coach Julie McDonald said. “We shut (the Bears) down, (and) we forced 20 turnovers on them. I think the girls played hard.”
It was their lack of good shots that was their downfall, she said.
Foul trouble from the Panthers led the Bears onto the free-throw line at the end of fourth quarter, where they were able to nab a one-point advantage with 43 seconds left, and before the buzzer rang out over the court, they managed to slip in another two-pointer.
It was a somber atmosphere in the locker room after the game and when the girls emerged, they looked crushed.
“I think we played really good defense but our problem throughout the whole season was our shots, and that got us today but, it happens,” senior Barba said.
Looking past the loss, the Panthers are proud of how hard they fought on the court, recognizing that it was a game they can be proud of.
“I’m super glad that we didn’t just come in and get blown out by 30 points,” junior Elizabeth Chavez said, “and that we kinda put up a fight in our first appearance at Gill. So it was satisfying that it was, like, a good close game the entire game.”
Wednesday morning, they played against Crater (10-4, Midwestern League, 21-7) at Gill Coliseum, where they won, 62-26, making for a different type of game than Tuesday’s. The girls went out onto the court with all cylinders firing.
“We came out pressing Crater, and I don’t think they were they ready for it,” McDonald said.
Mendazona score 19 points, Chavez followed with 16, and Annika Riddell added 10.
By the end of first quarter, the Panthers were up by seven, and the gap only widened from there; by half time, it was 30-17. And the Panthers didn’t let up for the rest of the game, relentless in both their defense and offense; their intensity kept the Comets from scoring.
“We forced 32 turnovers, and the turnovers turned into points which helped our momentum,” McDonald said. “We kept pushing the ball and shot a little better than yesterday from the 3-point line.”
Friday morning, the Panthers hustled in their last game of the consolation series, establishing a good lead for the first quarter but unable to keep up with Crescent Valley’s (11-3, MWC, 24-5) defense, losing to the Raiders, 44-42, and taking sixth place in the state championship playoffs.
Using a strong defensive side, the Panthers kept the Raiders from scoring until five minutes into the first quarter, with offense nabbing steals and two 3-pointers by Barba to put them ahead, 12-3.
As the game sped on, the Panthers missed some shots on their end that led the Raiders to claim the ball and begin closing the spread against the Panthers. Some foul trouble against Central put the Raiders on the free-throw line twice in the second quarter, bumping that score up even more.
Hanging onto that energy, the Panthers were determined to stay ahead; going into the third quarter, the score was 20-19. Things were heating up. A multitude of students from both schools were on either side of the stands at Gill Coliseum, chanting and cheering on their teams and showing their support.
In the middle of the third, Meagan Mendazona was up at the basket, but was shoved out of the way by a Raider while shooting a lay-in, causing her to fall and resulting in a foul by the Raiders.
However, Mendazona stayed on the ground, holding her wrist, a look of pain and shock on her face, and the gym went quiet. She was helped up and led over to her teammates by the athletic trainer, Kayla Dewolf, and Dewolf’s intern, Courtney May. It was an unfortunate end to Mendazona’s last basketball game.
“Meagan has broken her wrist and will need surgery,” McDonald said. “Losing her was huge, especially after losing Bailie Hartford on Wednesday with an ankle sprain.”
The Panthers felt her loss on the court. With a minute and a half left of the third quarter, the score was 28, all.
A layup by a Raider took them to the lead, and by the fourth, the Raiders were up by three.
“Meagan is one of our best offensive and defensive players,” McDonald said, “and missing her on both sides of the court are big shoes to fill.”
With Mendazona out of the game, McDonald subbed in some girls who hadn’t seen a lot of play.
“Mariah Hyre came in and did a great job on both ends of the court,” McDonald said. “Kennedy Kantola and Moana Andrew did a good job stepping up and giving our five (Mendazona) a breather.”
With the end of the game in sight, the Panthers gathered their energy and fought hard, working to gain the advantage.
“The girls did a great job rallying and hanging in there to tie the game on a deep 3-pointer by Barba from the corner,” McDonald said.
A foul with 38 seconds to go put one of the Raiders on the line, placing them ahead by two. Then, with 0.02 seconds to go, Trevino was fouled and stepped up to the line, missing both free throws.
The buzzer rang, and it was over for the Panthers.
McDonald said she was proud of how her girls performed throughout the series. Both losses were by a combined total of five points.
“Our seniors will be missed and contributed a lot to our success, but we will be focused on getting back to Gill,” she said.