St. Mary's balanced offense helped carry the Crusaders to the Southern Cascade League girls basketball championship this season.

St. Mary's balanced offense helped carry the Crusaders to the Southern Cascade League girls basketball championship this season.

And the Crusaders used the same formula in defeating De La Salle North Catholic, 39-29, in a Class 2A state playoff game Friday at the St. Mary's gym.

The victory against the north Portland school propels the Crusaders to their first state tournament berth since winning the Big Fir League title 11 years ago. St. Mary's will open the tournament at the Pendleton Convention Center at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Tri River Conference No. 3 seed Kennedy, which defeated Union 49-48 in other playoff action Friday.

St. Mary's (21-4) used a 10-3 run to open the third quarter to distance itself from the Knights after the teams went into halftime tied 16-all.

"I told the girls the first three minutes of the third quarter will dictate the game," said St. Mary's coach Tim Pflug, who took the St. Mary's boys to five straight state tournaments during his nine-year tenure ending in 2004.

Pflug used the same system in the playoff game — subbing in a five-player rotation about midway through the first three quarters — that he employed all season in his first year coaching the St. Mary's girls.

"I have 10 athletes," explained Pflug. "We have 10 girls who can be on the floor but we can play only five at a time."

"With the first group we try to get out a little more and play up-tempo," he added. "The second group plays a zone and more controlled. I like changing."

St. Mary's had eight players make it into the scoring column, with Kylee Adderson and Nikki Steinsiek tallying eight points each to lead the way.

"We've had seven different girls lead us in scoring throughout the year," said Pflug. "Everybody contributes. That's the biggest improvement we've made."

The Crusaders came out aggressive in the second half against the Knights (18-7), who were making their first state playoff appearance in the seven-year history of the school.

Freshman Kylee Adderson and senior sister Whitney Adderson were each fouled driving to the basket in the first minute of the third quarter. The sisters converted all four free throws to give St. Mary's a four-point lead.

The Crusaders used good ball movement to free up Kelsey Gross for an open 14-foot jumper in the key to stretch the margin to 22-16.

After junior dynamo Mia Robinson, who scored a game-high 14 points for the Knights, hit a 3-pointer, Kylee Adderson and Steinsiek answered with baskets to bump St. Mary's advantage to 26-19 with 3:20 left in the period.

Robinson scored on putback then, after a St. Mary's basket, banked in a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer to cut the Knights' deficit to 28-23 going into the final period.

Marchae Fesser's two free throws got De La Salle to within 28-25 early in the fourth, but the Knights never got any closer.

With 2:03 remaining, Robinson had a chance to get the Knights back to within three but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Veronica Valdez got the rebound and found Steinsiek streaking down the court for a fastbreak layup and a seven-point St. Mary's lead.

"I took off down the court and Veronica got me the ball," said Steinsiek. "I had a lane to the basket and I just took it."

St. Mary's got off to a ragged start. De La Salle jumped out to a 5-2 lead and St. Mary's committed 11 of its 23 turnovers in the opening period, which ended in a 7-all tie.

Gross, a junior point guard, helped the Crusaders settle down against the Knights' full-court zone press.

"Part of it was just nerves," said Gross. "But we did a good job of keeping our heads. We focused on slowing it down. If they're trapping, you obviously have someone that is open. We utilized everyone on the floor."

Gross scored six points, but the 5-foot-9 leader was valuable in other ways.

"Kelsey did a fantastic job of just running the team," said Pflug. "She's so smart."

Freshman Domonique Valdez was the spark plug for the second unit. She got out of control at times in the first half, but settled down after intermission.

"In the second half, I had more confidence and got more comfortable," said Domonique Valdez, who was one of the second-unit players Pflug inserted into the game with the starters about midway through the fourth.

The move paid off as Domonique Valdez scored all four of her points in the final three minutes. She provided a nifty assist for Katie Bates' layup with 30 seconds remaining, then banked in a 3-pointer right at the buzzer.

"There was like two seconds left and I just chucked it up," said Domonique Valdez about her final shot.

DE LA SALLE (29) — Rea-Branch 2, Carline 2, Robinson 14, Martin 2, Hohnstein 1, Fesser 4, White 2, Williams 0, Fantroy-Harrison 0, Fordney 2. Totals: 11 6-18 29.

ST. MARY'S (39) — D. Valdez 4, W. Adderson 3, Steinsiek 8, Bladek 0, Street 0, K. Adderson 8, Williams 2, Bates 3, Gross 6, Carini 0, V. Valdez 5. Totals: 14 10-18 39.

De La Salle 7 9 7 6 — 29

St. Mary's 7 9 12 11 — 39

3-point goals — De La Salle 1 (Robinson 1), St. Mary's 1 (D. Valdez 1).

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail fsilow@mailtribune.com