Avery Albrecht goes up for a lay-in during the Tigers 43-36 playoff win over Central High School Friday. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Screams of excitement echoed out of the La Grande girls basketball team’s locker room. After all, the Tigers are headed back to Gill Coliseum.
La Grande earned a spot in the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A playoffs, overcoming a slow start and the loss of the lone senior on the roster to pull away for a 43-36 win over Central Friday at La Grande High School. La Grande advances to face La Salle Prep in the quarterfinal round in an= 8:15 p.m. game on Wednesday at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
For a young team that features five sophomores and two freshmen on the varsity roster, going back to Gill is something most outside the program may not have thought possible when the season started.
“Its a young group that nobody believed in to start with,” La Grande head coach Doug Girdner said. “Slowly, a few people started to believe in them just by their work ethic and grinding out games. As a team, we believed and I think that is all that matters.”
The Tigers kept that belief even when senior Haley White fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Central had managed to stay within striking distance through much of the game, trimming a seven-point La Grande lead to four early in the fourth quarter.
White tried for a steal on the back court and ran into Central’s player, resulting in a pushing foul for her fifth.
“There was a lot of nerves and I got too excited,” White said.
Even without the senior, La Grande connected on 9-of-14 free throws down the stretch to hold off Central. During the game, Kylin Collman added 5-of-6 free throws
The two-week break between games showed for La Grande early as the Tigers struggled to score during the first six minutes of the game, falling behind 6-1 early. After Madison Wilcox finally hit a basket for the Tigers followed by Kylin Collman’s first 3-pointer of the game, La Grande managed to catch up and take the lead in the last two minutes, pulling ahead 7-6.
Early in the second Central regained the lead with a basket from Mo Tapasa, but lost it right away to a shot by Kali Avila. Two baskets in a row by the Rachel Alexander put the Tigers farther ahead and the half ended 22-14 in the Tigers’ favor.
Central could rebound but couldn’t make baskets.Two minutes into the third, Central got five offensive rebounds one right after another under the hoop by one player after another, but couldn’t get the ball to go through the net. The Panthers had more shot opportunities but couldn’t get through the net. The third quarter ended 30-23 in the Tigers’ favor.
For La Grande, Collman scored a game-high 14 points, including two 3-pointers, while teammate Avery Albrecht added seven points. Rachel Alexander and Auslin McDaniel-Perrin both ended the night with six points each.
Kylie Nash led the Panthers with 11 points, while Catherine Cutsforth added seven and Ryanne Huffman finished with six.
Now with the sub-tournament behind them and another chance at a state title on the horizon, the Tigers are eager to see what happens.
“Nobody thought we would get to a playoff game this year, but we proved them wrong and we are going to state,” White said.
Girdner is appreciative of all the community support at the game.
“They were the sixth man,” Girdner said. “They helped a lot.”