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Powder Valley’s Alexandra Colton (34) will try to help her team advance to the semifinals in a loser-out game against Pine Eagle at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Baker City. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Six teams battle for three spots into the state playoffs in Baker
The regular season is over, and after 10 games of league play, there’s not much separation at the top in the Old Oregon League.
Three teams advance from the league to the state playoffs. Imbler, Cove and Powder Valley appear to be the front runners — but strange things can happen in the postseason. The top-three teams all split their games against each other during the season. That will make the championship game very interesting. The Panthers have the easiest road, awaiting the winner of the Wallowa-Joseph game. Meanwhile, Cove picked up a big win against Powder Valley in the final game of the season, and the two teams are lined up to meet again in the semifinals.
The league has three tickets to the state play-in games, and they all head to Baker City to try and punch those tickets.
Imbler (16-5 overall, 8-2 OOL)
The Panthers had an impressive non-league schedule, finishing 8-3. All three losses came against the top three teams in the Blue Mountain Conference — Pilot Rock, Union and Weston-McEwen. The Panthers live and die by defense, and fortunately they have one of the best in Class 1A. Imbler allows 32.4 points per game, which is third among teams that have played more than 15 games this season. Offense is the biggest inconsistency, but also tough to gameplan for, because teams don’t know where the points going to come from. Emma Bowers is the most diverse scorer on the team — able to hit the mid-range shot and score in the paint. Freshman Lexee Robertson has been a freshman — a little inconsistent. But, the 5-10 post can be dangerous in the paint, and is a solid defender off the bench.
Cove (11-10 overall, 7-3 OOL)
The biggest surprise team in the league. Cove won the finale against Powder Valley to move into position to grab the No. 2 seed. The Leopards have surpassed expectations, especially when you factor the players they’re missing. Hannah Hulse and Morgan Reddington have not played this season. Hailey Hulse attempted to play, but reinjured her knee. Seniors Molly Delcurto and Mikayla Murchison have picked up the slack, and given Cove a solid post-guard combination. Juniors Kayla Johnson and Kindra Moore have helped provide for the missing points on the floor. Kydall Murchison doesn’t show up in the box score as often, but is the lock-down defender on the team — drawing the task of guarding the opponent’s top scoring option.
Powder Valley (13-6 overall 7-3 OOL)
Powder Valley is one of the scariest teams, but struggled through inconsistency in the beginning of the season. However, the Badgers are hitting their stride — winning six out of the last seven games. Allen Bingham has done a great job after losing two of the top scores in the league last season. Alexandra Colton is a tough match-up on the perimeter due to her speed, and she’s developed a better jump shot this season. Bailee Allen is still the most pure shooter they have, and has shown she can carry the load when needed — scoring eight points in the fourth quarter during a big win against Imbler at home late in the season. While those two players are consistent threats, it’s Sally Blair in the paint that can make this team dangerous. Blair, a junior, can score in the paint and rebound. If the Badgers are going are going to advance and move up in the seeding, it will because Powder Valley is scoring in the paint.
Joseph (6-15 overall, 4-6 OOL)
Joseph is the dark horse of the tournament. Despite a sub .500 record in league play, the Eagles could sneak up one of the top three teams. Joseph has all the right pieces, it’s just a matter of everything coming together at the right time, and turnovers. If Joseph can eliminate some of the costly turnovers, they could sneak into the top three. It will be up to Hailee McClure and Sidney Cooney to limit the mistakes and handle full-court pressure. But, it’s Breanna Gibson and Satori Albee who could be the keys offensively to an upset win. Both players can get hot from the outside, which opens up the lane for possible drives to the basket. Noel and Holly Taylor will be crucial in the paint. Rebounding will be key, and the second-chance points that often accompany losing the battle of the boards. The Eagles didn’t come close to an upset during the regular season, which may help during the postseason.
Wallowa (6-14 overall, 2-8 OOL)
Everybody is looking for something, and the thing Wallowa is looking for is offense. The Cougars only won two games in league play, but one of those wins was against Cove. Scoring is the biggest issue for the Cougars. After defeating the Leopards 41-28, Wallowa scored 26 points per game in three losses to close out the regular season. The Cougars lost their top scoring option, Morgan Waters, before the league schedule. Wallowa was 4-5 with Waters in the line-up. Juniors Taylor Harshfield and Kristyn Young have been forced to carry more of the offensive load. Head coach Greg Oveson doesn’t have many other players with court experience. It will be up to the role players to extend Wallowa’s season past Thursday. The Cougars average just 29 points per game, while allowing 37.6 points.