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Texan helps turn tide for Rogue River

Texas transplant Sarah Jones has helped make Rogue River one of the state's best girls basketball teams.

Sarah Jones says she was used to seeing lots of talent flying up and down the court during her three years of varsity basketball in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The challenges and stakes were high playing for Mary Carroll High, a Class 5A school -- the state's largest division. Jones looked forward to finishing off her prep career at the state tournament in Austin.

Instead, she finds herself about 1,500 miles away in surroundings rather foreign to someone raised on the Gulf Coast.

Jones' family moved last summer to Rogue River, where the Chieftains hadn't played in a state tournament in more than 20 years. But the timing of the senior's transfer has worked out for both Jones and the Chiefs.

When she first arrived, Rogue River coach Dan Mortinson could see Jones' potential impact on his team and the Skyline standings. But, at least publicly, he soft-pedaled his expectations.

We had a softer schedule in the preseason and I wanted to reserve my analysis until we got into Skyline Conference games, Mortinson says. In the past, we've had some very strong Skyline posts and I wanted to see how she would deal with it.

Although her scoring average has dipped below the 20 points she averaged in December, Jones remains one of the Skyline's top scorers.

It's panned out well. She's an excellent athlete, Mortinson says. She was the fifth piece of the pie we needed.

With three regular-season games remaining, the Chiefs are 17-2 overall and ranked fifth among Class 3A teams.

We're not cocky or anything, Jones says. But we know what we can do and what we can master.

All the girls came into the season feeling good about going to state in other sports.

The Chiefs won the state cross country title and the district soccer crown and reached the state tournament in volleyball.

Jones hadn't played much volleyball in the past, but she turned out last fall so she could mingle.

Although she has endured ankle sprains and hairline fractures in the past, she wasn't prepared for her rude introduction to Oregon basketball.

We were playing Brookings, and in the first five minutes a girl elbowed me in the head, Jones says. I was bleeding all over the place and missed a quarter and a half. That was the first time that's ever happened to me; I was kind of shocked. The girl didn't even apologize.

Brookings prevailed in that game, but the Chiefs came back to wallop the Bruins, 50-30, five games later in a tournament, and Rogue River went on to 11 straight victories.

Jones is averaging 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.

I tell her, `Your role is to be the leading scorer, but you don't need to be the leading scorer every night,' Mortinson says. Other nights, it's shutting down someone on defense or rebounding.

Jones showed a lot of heart in the Chiefs' lone Skyline loss at Henley. She missed practice all week with illness and didn't expect to play a lot.

I didn't start, and I thought I was being there just in case, Jones says.

The call for help was sounded within the first two minutes.

I was really tired. I couldn't jump, says Jones, who nonetheless scored 17 points in Rogue River's only conference loss. I was dead sick. I tried really hard, but I didn't have enough strength.

Come Friday night, Jones should have plenty of strength, and that just might be enough for the Chiefs to clinch their first state tournament appearance since 1977.

It might be a long way from Texas, but not a bad way to close out a prep career.

Texan helps turn tide for Rogue River