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La Grande’s Madison Elliott hugs Avery Albrecht after the Tigers’ win Saturday. BRAD MOSHER/The Observer
by BRAD MOSHER / The Observer
Madras’ dreams for a trip to Wednesday’s 4A state basketball tournament in Corvallis ended with the reality that the Lady Buffaloes had lost the biggest weapon in their arsenal to fouls early in the fourth quarter.
Instead, it was La Grande’s Lady Tigers who had their tournament dreams realized with a 65-43 victory that put them in a first-round battle with Banks Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Gill Coliseum on the Oregon State University campus.
The Lady Buffs got 17 points from sophomore Maria Stacona in the first half alone, helping to keep the score close.
But after a change in defensive plans shut down the Buffs’ biggest weapon, the 36-32 edge the Tigers had at halftime quickly grew, especially with a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 47-38 lead.
Twenty seconds into the fourth quarter, the Buffs lost Stacona to her fifth foul. The Tigers responded with a 9-0 run that built a 56-38 lead in the next three minutes.
Breanna Partney led the Tigers in offense, hitting half the team’s four 3-pointers on the way to a 26-point effort. Denise Comfort added 11, while Anna Grigsby put in seven. Lexus Miller-Moylan scored six points, while Lauren Mills, Madison Elliott and Haley White each had four points.
Lily Page finished with two points.
The Tigers had a 25-13 in regular field goals and both teams hit four 3-pointers, but La Grande also got a big edge at the free throw line. The Tigers hit 11 of their 23 free throw chances, while the Buffs were able to convert just five of their nine attempts.
According to La Grande coach Doug Girdner, the Tigers were able to neutralize the scoring of the Buffs’ Stacona by moving her out of her comfort area.
But Stacona also picked up her final two fouls in within 30 seconds. With nine seconds on the clock in the third quarter, Stacona was whistled for her fourth foul. Then, Stacona picked up her fifth when she was trying with teammate Leah Suppah to pressure La Grande into a turnover bringing the ball upcourt.
For a young team like Madras, the loss of Stacona hurt alot, according to coach Michael Osborne. The Lady Buffaloes only have two seniors and most of the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
‘We you lose your point guard, that kind of changed the whole complexity of out game. Fouls are fouls, but with us being so young…,” he said, shaking his head. “In the fourth quarter, we were playing with four freshmen and one senior on the floor. We had over 25 turnovers.
“La grande is a tough team and when it is back and forth and you are trying to compete against quality team, you can’t turn the ball over and you got to rebound.”
According to Osborne, that is why the Tigers pulled away so quickly. “We went from down four to down 12 and down 14 really quick,” he added.
Osborne tried to argue when Stacona fouled out that Stacona was behind the play. “The trip happened way up here with 33 (Suppah). I guess it was one of those coaching moments when you want to keep your star player in, even knowing that she had four fouls. You hope to convince the ref. But it happened so quick.”
Madras started the season with only three returners, according to Osborne. “We have made tremendous strides (this season). If this had been the first game of the season, we would have lost by 70. We’ll be back here in a year or two. We should be pretty solid next year. It will just be a matter of if they’ll put in the time.”
Osborne praised the Tigers after the game. “He has some seniors down there that have some size and have some strength. They have some go-to moves. Our freshmen were playing against senior post experience,” he said.
Facing a guard that had scored more than 50 points combined in the previous two games, Girdner knew his defense would be tested Saturday.
“We knew they were a great team,” said Girdner. “That number 10 (Stacona) — she’s one of the very best point guards in the state. We knew that coming in. We practiced all week for her.
“We also worked to control their posts. They have a pretty decent post player.”
The Tigers got off to a pretty good start, Girdner said. “The first four minutes, we had her (Stacona) frustrated, but then she got comfortable and reeled off 17 points in the half.
“We stepped it up on defense and got everybody to help a little better in the second half. We held her to two. We adjusted really well at halftime.
“The girls kept with our game plan and kept grinding it out. I’m really proud of them,” he added. “We have been really working on playing good D without fouling. I thought we did a lot better job of that tonight.”
For seniors Partney, Comfort, Elliot and Mills, Saturday’s victory was their last as Tigers in the La Grande gymnasium.