COOS BAY — Richard Vasey brought a silver linings playbook with him to Marshfield High on Saturday.
It didn't hold all the answers, but it contained a reminder for the St. Mary's first-year head coach and his Crusaders.
"We lost this game, but we were gonna win it no matter what," Vasey said following his team's 40-27 loss to Valley Catholic in the Class 3A girls basketball state championship. "Who expected us here? Who expected that group of kids to be here and compete?"
St. Mary's (26-3), which didn't even make the state tournament last year, had a spectacularly surprising season come to a crashing halt against the Valiants (28-2), who finally secured a state crown after falling to Vale in the championship in 2012.
Looking on at the celebration were the Southern Cascade Hybrid champion Crusaders, with just two seniors and a pair of starting guards who stand at 5-foot-2 and 5-3. The unlikely collection kept winning and winning and winning, all the way to the big stage.
Climbing to the pinnacle and falling hard hurt, said senior post Alex DeBoer, but the pain didn't last too long.
"I didn't see it coming either," she said. "We had a new coach this year and all of our girls are really young besides me and (senior) Mary (Eaton). We didn't expect to get this far. I was like, 'Oh I want to go play in a state championship game before I graduate,' and we got here. I didn't think it would actually happen but it did."
Of course, silver linings wouldn't be possible without the acknowledgment of hard times.
There were a few of those in the 3A title bout, which teetered sloppily back and forth before the Lewis & Clark League runner-up snatched up the prize late.
The Crusaders, who recorded a dismal 9-for-53 effort from the field, drew within one point with 2:59 remaining in the third quarter.
They then went scoreless for the next 8 minutes, 24 seconds. By the time they scored again, the Valiants led 36-25.
Valley Catholic's jagged full-court press rattled St. Mary's, severely troubling the Crusaders' scoring standouts and, at times, proving crippling. Junior Emily Alvarez, the SCH co-player of the year, was limited to seven points on 2-of-15 shooting. Junior sharpshooter Lillian Martin connected on just one of her 14 attempts, and sophomore standout Rose Alvarez canned but two of her 12 attempts.
Collectively, the 3-point threats were just 5 of 26 from beyond the arc.
The defensive pressure — which also included a triangle wrinkle when St. Mary's managed to break the press — also contributed to a big rebounding advantage for the Valiants, who earned a 49-28 edge.
"We didn't want to let them settle into halfcourt and allow their shooters to get comfortable," Valley Catholic head coach John Innes said. "We felt like even if it didn't force turnovers they would have to work hard enough to get the ball over halfcourt that when they did get an open shot maybe it would be short or long. I think in the second half that proved to be true. They got a lot of good open looks but I'm not sure they necessarily felt comfortable taking those and it led to a lot of long rebounds for us and the ability to push the ball."
The free-throw line wasn't a comfortable place either. St. Mary's went 4-for-13 while playing aggressive at the opposite end. The Valiants went to the charity stripe 33 times and buried 20 of them.
"They made the little run and we gave up some fouls," Vasey said. "We're just an aggressive team, we've been playing like that all year. We knew on this stage we had to be aggressive in order to be successful."
Valley Catholic had its own woes, connecting on just 10 of its 48 field-goal attempts and missing every 3 that it tried. The Beaverton squad led 15-13 at halftime and 29-24 entering the final frame.
The Crusaders — in search of the program's first state title — went fatally cold in the fourth, missing their first five shots, then missing two free throws, then missing two more shots.
And by then it was too late.
A few of St. Mary's bright moments came in the second and third quarters. In the second, Emily Alvarez drained a 3, Eaton scored on a putback, DeBoer scooped in a bucket after making a smooth cut to the rim and then Martin canned a triple to tie the game at 12 with 1:06 remaining.
In the third, Rose Alvarez hit a 3 and, on the very next play, the Crusaders finally broke Valley Catholic's press when Dakotah Rothfus scored. Triples by Rose and Emily Alvarez a little later cut the Valiants' advantage to a point with 2:59 in the period.
St. Mary's went on its costly drought after that, thanks largely to that pesky Valley Catholic defense.
"With our schedule, we don't face anybody who presses like that," Vasey said. "That is one of the things we've been saying all week: this is as much about right now as it is about the future. What things this week were exposed so we can get back and compete again at this level? That was one thing that was exposed. We've got to learn to break a press, a hard-nosed aggressive press."
As the Crusaders lined up to receive their second-place medals, Rose Alvarez looked at her sister Emily, who was beginning to cry, and whispered a few words to her older teammate.
"I just told her that at least we made it to state," Rose Alvarez said. "And we were here, and we made history for our school. And I told her to put her head up because part of the reason was her energy, and her shots and the way she brings up the team and helps everyone."
Sophomore Kaylynn Bush led Valley Catholic with 16 points and seven rebounds. She was awarded her team's most valuable player honors.
"They are loaded," Vasey said of the Valiants. "We play 10 or 11 players, they play 12 players but they have the same players come in. We've got to mix and match, and fight and scrape and hide people and move people. They bring a 6-1 post player in for a 6-1 post player. It's hard to compete against that."
Emily Alvarez finished with five steals, while Rose Alvarez had six points and Martin five points, six rebounds and three steals.
"We are looking forward to next year," said Rose Alvarez, who was named St. Mary's MVP of the game. "We are coming back. We are definitely coming back next year."
ST. MARY'S (27) — DeBoer 1-3 0-2 2, E. Alvarez 2-15 1-2 7, R. Alvarez 2-12 0-2 6, Eaton 1-2 1-2 3, Martin 1-14 2-4 5, Juncal 0-1 0-0 0, Vasey 0-1 0-0 0, Barnum 0-1 0-0 0, Ramsay 0-0 0-0 0, Weiland 1-1 0-0 2, Rothfus 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 9-53 4-13 27.
VALLEY CATHOLIC (40) — Alsdorf 0-3 2-2 2, Flemmer 0-4 1-2 1, LaBonte 1-8 2-4 4, Connelly 0-0 0-0 0, Rapp 0-0 1-2 1, Mannen 0-3 0-0 0, Bush 5-8 6-8 16, Gabourel 0-3 2-4 2, Danielson 2-7 1-3 5, Duyck 0-1 2-3 2, McDevitt 2-10 3-5 7. Totals: 10-47 20-33 40.
St. Mary's 2 11 11 3 — 27
Valley Catholic 9 6 14 11 — 40
3-point goals — St. Mary's 5-27 (E. Alvarez 2-9, R. Alvarez 2-9, Martin 1-8, Juncal 0-1), Valley Catholic 0-9 (Alsdorf 0-1, LaBonte 0-4, Bush 0-1, Gabourel 0-2, Duyck 0-1). Rebounds — St. Mary's 37 (Martin 6), Valley Catholic 66 (Alsdorf 8). Assists — St. Mary's 5 (E. Alvarez 2), Valley Catholic 8 (Alsdorf 4). Total fouls — St. Mary's 21, Valley Catholic 17.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org