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It may not be March yet, but there’s already madness in the Oregon basketball playoffs. Heading into their Friday night road game against Tigard, the Canby Cougars girls basketball team needed some help.
Sitting outside of the playoff picture in the state at the No. 34 position, the Cougars desperately needed a win over the 27th-ranked Tigers to catapult themselves into the playoffs.
Thanks to the playoff qualification of leagues, Central Catholic had already clinched a spot in the playoffs by virtue of their third-place finish in the Mt. Hood Conference. That meant that only the top 31 teams would be getting into the state playoffs.
With even less room for error than usual, the Cougs put a tough week behind them and bested the Tigers, 46-41, and clawed their way to the No. 31 position in the state, clinching the last available at-large bid in the 6A playoffs.
The Cougars (12-12, 5-9 TRL) had started out the week with a brutal back-to-back against top-20 teams in Oregon City (16-8, 10-4 TRL) and Tualatin (14-10, 9-5 TRL).
The Canby offense had sputtered out in both instances, scoring 31 points in a 19-point loss to the Pioneers, and a paltry 18 points against one of the best defenses in the state in Tualatin on senior night.
Those two losses pushed the Cougars to the brink of elimination. With their backs against the wall, first-year head coach Ingrid McCoy knew that she and her team had their work cut out for them against Tigard (10-14, 4-10 TRL).
“After the two tough losses to Oregon City and Tualatin, it was really about getting mentally and emotionally where we needed to be to believe in ourselves to play like we were capable of against Tigard,” McCoy told the Current. “Resilience and toughness are words that come to mind.”
That resilience was shown early on when the Cougars trailed by four at the end of the first quarter. The Tigers, who towered over the smaller Cougars with the likes of the 6-4 Sarah Lamet, took advantage of that height. Lamet had four first-quarter points as Tigard led 12-8.
In true Canby fashion, it was their defense that helped take a stranglehold on the game. The Cougs only gave up four points in the second quarter as they took a two-point lead into halftime. Allie Mead, the Cougars’ leading scorer, chipped in six in the second quarter.
Mead, along with her teammates RayAnne Schedler and Kayley Borntrager, were named by SBLiveOR as “players to watch” in the Three Rivers League. And in the second half, they all showed why.
Mead scored 10 points in the third, outscoring the entire Tiger team by herself in the frame. Her midrange presence and finishing gave the Cougars the extra edge they needed as Canby took a commanding 35-24 lead into the fourth.
“I can’t say enough about Allie,” McCoy said. “Her ability to control the temp of the game for us, her tenacity on defense, ability to get into the lane and finish and leadership are outstanding.”
Mead found an open Borntrager out of an inbounds play for a beautiful triple. The perfect swish was her only field goal of the game, but the huge three remained a difference-maker as Canby kept a 42-32 lead.
From there, Lamet would assert herself strongly into the game. Schedler had done a good job of holding back one of the best posts in the game thus far, but the Tigard senior was bound to make her presence known.
In the fourth, she scored 14 points — including two triples of her own, as the Tigers inched back to within five as the minutes wound down.
While the Cougars would not hit another shot in the final minutes, free throws from Borntrager and McKenna Kraft kept Tigard at bay. As the final buzzer sounded, the Cougars were victorious, 46-41. Mead finished the game with 22 points, while Borntrager contributed nine.
“The effort, belief in themselves, and the execution of the game plan impressed me,” McCoy said of the game. “They rose to the occasion and played as a team.”
While Canby had done all they could by picking up a road win over another playoff team, they still needed the ball to bounce their way to ensure a playoff position.
Luckily, fate smiled on Canby as both of their closest competitors (Lincoln and Newberg) lost their final games. After all was said and done, the Canby Cougars girls basketball team snuck into the 6A playoffs.
While their matchup against No. 2 Jesuit (22-3), a team that bested the likes of Lakeridge, certainly looks impossible, McCoy knows one thing is for certain: Her girls will give their all.
The playoff game is set to tip off at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 2.
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