BAKER CITY — Stellar defense, sharp shooting early and a response when Damascus Christian made a rally Wednesday sent the Joseph Eagles to the state semifinals for the first time since 2009.

Up next: the undefeated Crane Mustangs.

Sabrina Albee scored 14 points and had two crucial baskets late in the third to halt a 13-0 Damascus Christian run, and the Eagles held Damascus Christian to its lowest point total of the season and ended its 16-game winning streak with a 42-27 win at the 1A state tournament at Baker High School.

"We're not big," head coach Lance Homan said with a laugh, "and so for us, we rely on defense. If we can keep teams from scoring what they normally do, we feel like we have a chance, so we base everything on that." 

The Eagles held Damascus Christian, which lost for just the third time this season, nearly 22 points below its average of 48.8 points per game, using quickness to knock the ball away and snag several steals while rotating well and forcing Damascus Christian to take several tough shots.

"We practice hard on deny and then making sure you're in help," Homan said of the defensive rotations. "It looks like a man, but it's not. It's kind of a matchup zone. We do have quick hands. We have quick girls. We try to get them where we make plays."

The play of the defense and some early offensive success — Joseph hit four first-half 3-pointers — helped the Eagles to go ahead by as many as 17 points late in the first half and they seemed to be in complete control. An 11-0 run on 3-pointers from Madelyn Nelson, Albee and Brianna Micka and a jumper from Camille Crenshaw gave Joseph its largest lead at 26-9 with just over a minute to play in the first half.

"The first quarter when we had our run, I knew we were working together and that was good," said Albee, who had eight points in the first half.

Damascus Christian got within 26-14 at halftime on an Ally Love jumper and a corner 3-pointer by Noelle Wakefield, then spent the first six minutes of the third chipping away at the deficit. A jumper by McKenna Patrick — on a third opportunity for DC on offense — got her team within six and two free throws by Sierra Hale cut it to 26-22.

But Joseph didn't panic, showing a trait Homan has seen from the team all season.

"You know (the opponent is) going to make a run, but it's trying to withstand that and then having your own. They are hard to shake," Homan said of his team. "They don't get down. They're pretty levelheaded, and they want to be here."

With 1:40 to play in the third, Albee got loose in the corner, drove baseline and got a tough runner to bounce in to end the run and a nearly eight-minute scoring drought, then she scored on the low block on the next possession. Crenshaw followed with a putback before the quarter ended to put Joseph up 32-22.

"When we slow it down on offense, it makes it really hard for the defense to catch up to us," Albee said. "Definitely slowing down quit their run and they were getting less steals."

Jumpers by Rylee Wilcox and Crenshaw helped put Joseph ahead by 12 early in the fourth, and Damascus Christian got no closer than 11 the rest of the game.

"I feel like we always just know we're going to win. In a way, we have that confidence," Micka said of how the team stayed poised during the third quarter. "We don't get worried. Even in district we had a couple really close games, but we never let it get to us because we know we'll come back. Sometimes our third quarters are a little bit slower, but we know we'll get back."

Damascus Christian didn't score for the first 5:16 of the game and committed six first-quarter turnovers while Joseph opened on a 10-0 run, with a 3-point play by Albee and a wing 3-pointer by Nelson helping Joseph take control early. Molly Curry's jumper late in the period gave the Eagles a 12-4 lead after one.

The Eagles got scoring up and down the lineup after Albee, with Crenshaw scoring eight points, Micka seven, Nelson six and Curry five. Micka also had a game-high 13 rebounds, and Albee had four assists and four steals.

"We knew they were going to do a diamond-and-one on Sabrina or a triangle-and-two with Mads and Sabrina, which they did, and girls stepped up," Homan said.

Wakefield hit three 3-pointers to finish with nine points for Damascus Christian, which shot just 28% and was outrebounded 36-26. Love added six points.

DC (24-3 overall) will face Valley 10 League rival Country Christian Thursday morning in the consolation bracket, while Joseph (22-6) gets a second shot at Crane at noon Friday in the semifinals. The Mustangs defeated Joseph earlier this season 54-30.

"I'm excited to have that rematch," Micka said. "They're a really good team. They're athletic. I think it'll be better than last time."

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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