Unionís Amber Fiorito (34) and Kaci Langford (20) battle for a rebound with Kim Webb of Regis in the 2A state championship game Saturday night at the Pendleton Convention Center. The Rams won the game, 60-48. The Union girls basketball team (below) poses with their medals. CASEY KELLAS/The Observer
by CASEY KELLAS / The Observer
Regis holds off Lady Cats for 2A championship, 60-48
PENDLETON — For the third straight season, the Regis Rams were crowned champions of the 2A girls basketball state tournament, defeating Union 60-48 in the title game Saturday night at the Pendleton Convention Center.
But the Lady Cats, making their first appearance in the championship game in school history, didn’t make it easy on the 2A juggernauts.
The Rams looked like the more comfortable team out of the gates, jumping out to a 16-4 lead before Dani Sturm hit Union’s first field goal at the one-minute mark to make it 16-6.
A pair of Sturm free throws late in the quarter cut the lead to 16-8 after the first eight minutes.
“I told the girls before the game that Regis comes out with fire, and to try and get over that hump,” Union head coach Tessa Nicholson said.
“Our defense, I think, was playing a little bit hesitant and giving them a little too much room. But that’s just the youngness in them, the lack of experience.”
The Lady Cats settled down in the second quarter, despite having standout guard Keesha Sarman — who set a tournament scoring record with 37 points in the semifinal win over Heppner on Friday — confined to the bench with two fouls.
Regis took a 24-14 lead before a Kaci Langford basket with 1:14 to go before halftime started a 7-0 finish by the Lady Cats.
A Carsyn Roberts floater with 40 seconds remaining capped the run and sent UHS to the locker room with momentum and a 24-19 deficit.
“We wanted to pressure the ball,” Nicholson said of how her team got back in the game.
“And pushing the ball and attacking the hoop. Everytime we attacked it should have been a foul or two points.”
Union scored the first four points of the third quarter to get within one point at 24-23, but Regis channeled its championship experience and went on a 15-2 run to end the quarter ahead, 41-27.
“They play really tight defense,” Sturm said. “They would stop us every time we tried to drive in and then we didn’t see the dish off.”
That defense held the Lady Cats to just one assist for the game.
“They beat us in defense for sure, and their shots were falling,” Sarman added.
But Union made one last push.
After exchanging baskets with Regis early on, the Lady Cats went on an 11-1 run to cut the score to 50-44 with 4:06 to play in regulation.
A pair of Sturm free throws with 3:18 to go cut the score to 52-44 and the Lady Cats had the momentum behind them.
“We were just trying our hardest,” Sarman said.
“We were trying things we don’t normally try. We were just trying to make something happen.”
She admitted that the team started to have thoughts of winning when the Lady Cats got close.
“There was definitely thought that maybe we’d pull it out. The whole time we believed that we could.”
But for every Union run, Regis seemed to come up with an answer just in the nick of time.
Over the final two minutes, the Rams tightened up on defense and hit eight of 12 free throws to seal the victory and hold off Union for their fourth consecutive title after a win at the 3A level four seasons ago.
“Just not quite enough,” Nicholson said.
“The girls fought hard, tough. We didn’t give it to them.”
Sarman finished the game with 18 points in just 17 minutes of action. Sarman finished the tournament with 72 points, just three shy of the tournament record set by Glendale’s Gretchen Owens in 2008.
Sturm, playing her final basketball game as one of the team’s two seniors, added 13 points and grabbed player of the game honors for UHS.
Roberts and Sarah Good both added six points, while Langford, the other senior Lady Cat, had five points and four rebounds.
Jesse Morris led the Rams with 21 points and took home player of the game honors for Regis.
Both Becca Lorenz and Beth Lorenz added 15 points, and Webb chipped in eight.
Despite the loss for Union, the season will go down as one of the best in the school’s history.
Never before had a Lady Cat team won a game on the Convention Center floor at the state tournament, and this year the team won two games and came up a couple minutes shy of taking down the defending two-time champions.
“It sucks that we lost, but I’m glad that we finished second in state,” Sturm said.
“I’m glad it happened my senior year. It’s a very exciting experience.”
Sarman, who was also named to the All-Tournament first team, thinks that this experience will no doubt fuel the team next season.
“I won’t forget it for sure. It’s definitely (motivation). No one has ever made it this far in our high school. So, we want to make it all the way and finish on top next time,” Sarman said.
Nicholson also thinks her team’s run is just the start of something bigger.
“This was unbelievable. I couldn’t be more proud. We’ll be back. I think this is a confidence booster,” she said.
“Give these girls a week or two and they’ll realize what they accomplished. I think right now they’re looking at it like they failed, when in all reality, they made history in every way, shape and form.”
Union 64, Heppner 51
PENDLETON — The Lady Cats took care of Blue Mountain Conference rival Heppner in the semifinal game Friday.
Behind Keesha Sarman’s tournament-record 37 points, Union prevailed to advance to its first championship game.
Sarman had 24 points in the second half and finished 17 of 24 at the free throw line. Kaci Langford added seven points, and both Dani Sturm and Amber Fiorito chipped in six points.