Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
On one of the brightest stages, the Alvarez sisters shined for the St. Mary's girls basketball team, whose poise was tested in Friday's Class 3A state semifinal game at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay.
Emily Alvarez poured in 21 points and Rose Alvarez knocked down key shots in the fourth quarter to catapult the Crusaders into the state championship game with a 44-34 triumph over a strong Willamina squad.
Following a three-year hiatus, the Crusaders (26-2) return to the state title game, where they fell to Portland Christian as a Class 2A school. St. Mary's will get another chance at 6:30 p.m. today against Valley Catholic (27-2) of the Lewis & Clark League.
"I told the girls, 'You just took a special season and made it magical,'" said Crusaders head coach Richard Vasey. "If you saw them in the halls, you wouldn't even know they were a basketball team. We're not tall and we're not big. They certainly don't intimidate anyone. We're just a ragtag bunch of kids."
The Crusaders appeared to be well in control Friday, bursting out to a 16-3 lead after the opening quarter. But Vasey and the St. Mary's coaches, who scouted Willamina's comeback win over Vail, knew better.
"We knew that was kind of a fluke," said Vasey on St. Mary's quick start. "(The Bulldogs) play probably the best zone we've seen all year. They just sat back there in that zone and clawed their way back.
"They come down and really work it in, lowering their shoulders and driving it to the basket. We got into foul trouble just on their penetration alone. They're just so stinking strong."
As the Crusader coaches feared, the Bulldogs (24-4) methodically climbed back to square the score 27-all on Devon Stackhouse's free throw in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The tie was short-lived, however, when Emily Alvarez drilled a 3-pointer two possessions later.
"Once Emily hit that — they had expended so much energy to get back in the game — that was kind of the backbreaker," said Vasey.
The Crusaders continued to pull away when they received back-to-back baskets from Rose Alvarez on a long jumper and from Sarah Ramsay, whose layup increased St. Mary's margin to 34-27.
After almost a 21/2-minute scoring drought, Emily Alvarez's steal and dish to her sister led to a basket and a 36-29 lead. Sam Weiland all but sealed the victory for the Crusaders by going 4-for-4 from the foul line over the final minute.
Emily Alvarez went 7-for-14 from the floor and was 4-for-9 beyond the arc. She also generated six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Rose Alvarez was quiet until tallying all five of her points in the final period.
Lillian Martin, who sat because of early foul trouble, provided the Crusaders with six points and four rebounds before fouling out with four minutes left in the fourth.
Steady team defense by the Crusaders offset the fact that the Bulldogs owned the boards, 31-23.
"That's one advantage of playing 10 or 11 kids every night," said Vasey. "You've played them all in tough situations. The kids know how to step up and take care of the ball."
The Crusaders shot 39 percent from the field while holding the Bulldogs to less than 25 percent.
The Bulldogs of the West Valley League received eight points and eight boards from Kyra Toney and six points apiece from Kasey Anderson, Whitney Anderson and Zoe Holsclaw. Brook Wilson pulled down nine rebounds.
WILLAMINA (34) — Stackhouse 1-3 1-2 3, France 0-0 0-0 0, K. Anderson 2-10 0-4 6, Rankin 0-1 0-0 0, W. Anderson 3-15 0-1 6, Callaway 0-1 0-0 0, Toney 2-10 3-6 8, Holsclaw 3-5 0-0 6, Wilson 2-8 1-5 5. Totals: 13-53 11-17 34.
ST. MARY'S (44) — DeBoer 1-3 0-0 2, E. Alvarez 7-14 3-3 21, R. Alvarez 2-4 1-2 5, Martin 2-6 1-5 6, Juncal 0-1 0-0 0, Vasey 0-1 1-2 1, Barnum 1-4 1-1 3, Ramsay 1-3 0-0 2, Weiland 0-0 4-4 4, Rothfus 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-36 11-17 44.
Willamina 3 10 11 10 — 34
St. Mary's 16 7 4 17 — 44
3-point goals — Willamina 3-20 (K. Anderson 2-7, Toney 1-4), St. Mary's 5-14 (E. Alvarez 4-9, Martin 1-2). Rebounds — Willamina 31 (Wilson 9), St. Mary's 23 (Alvarez 6). Assists — Willamina 4 (Wilson 2), St. Mary's 6 (E. Alvarez 3). Total fouls — Willamina 19, St. Mary's 14. Fouled out — Stackhouse.
Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4480 or email@example.com