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Rogue River ready for return to tournament

Hidden Valley faces tough opener against No. 2 Central

It might as well be the first trip to the state Class 3A girls basketball tournament for Rogue River.

None of the Chieftains players were even alive the last time Rogue River's girls made the tournament and coach Dan Mortinson was a junior at the school.

So while history -- and some longtime residents -- remember that the Chieftains made the state finals in 1977, the trip isn't likely to help much when third-ranked Rogue River takes on No. 4 Waldport at — p.m. in Wednesday's first round at Portland's Chiles Center.

I'm sure we are going to have to deal with some first-quarter jitters, says Mortinson. That's part of playing in a tournament, and we have to play through it.

Waldport coach Mike Williams knows all about those jitters. A year ago, his Irish team made its first jaunt into the tournament since returning to the Class 3A level after a period as a 2A school and ended up losing in the consolation finals.

We have some experience coming back. Five of our players got some tournament experience so that might be to our advantage, Williams says.

Waldport finished tied for first place with Philomath at 13-1 in the Val-Co League. They lost their seeding game 32-27 to the Warriors last Tuesday but have won 10 of their last 11 games and are 20-4 on the season.

Hidden Valley opens play in the tournament tonight, taking on Central of Independence at 7 p.m. The Panthers (20-2, 12-0 Capital League) are ranked second in the state.

The Mustangs (15-9, 10-4 Skyline Conference) make their third state tournament appearance in four years and their fifth in the past seven seasons.

The Rogue River-Waldport game matches a pair of teams who know very little about each other. But both Williams and Mortinson say the Chieftains' height advantage -- the duo of 6-foot Shae Wright and 5-9 1/2 Sarah Jones -- will be key for Rogue River (21-2, 13-1 Skyline).

We're not big, says Williams. Our biggest girl is about 5-foot-11 and from there we drop to a lot of 5-8 type kids.

They are big and we are going to have to overachieve on the boards and try to compete with them there. We have to really be concerned about their low-post game.

If we can get the ball inside and control the defensive boards as well, I think we can be successful, says Mortinson. We are not going to be able to beat quality teams if we give them three or four shots at the basket like we have at times this year. That's an area we are really focusing on.

Waldport's attack revolves around the inside-outside combination of junior post Katy Wilson and senior point guard Michelle Thueson. Wilson, who is 5-11, averages about 14 points and eight rebounds a game, while Thueson averages 12 points. Still, Williams says the Irish have a variety of weapons.

We are really a balanced team, he says. We take pride in the fact that we have a lot of people that can contribute.

Offensively, Williams' biggest concern is shooting -- a facet of the game that plagued Waldport during its recent loss.

We should have won our seeding game but we didn't shoot very well at all, he says. We just need to play relaxed.

Playing a loose, confident game is high up on Mortinson's wish list, too. He's hoping to ward off much of his team's state tournament nervousness with positive reinforcement and a full pregame schedule.

I'm a structured person, he says. We have everything scheduled through at least Wednesday and I'm going to try and make it very busy. Hopefully, there's not going to be a lot of time to sit around and lose focus. I want to keep us in a routine and keep organized.

The Chieftains left for Portland early Monday and practiced at Linfield College in McMinnville in the afternoon. They'll practice there again today and have daily study sessions and team meetings.

Opening the tournament against another highly ranked team isn't ideal, but Mortinson says the Chieftains might as well be tested early.

It's the luck of the draw. That's why coaches don't like seeding games because these things happen, says Mortinson, noting that the other option was to play fifth-ranked Philomath. If we want to be successful we are going to have to beat some quality teams and this is a challenge for us.

Rogue River has won 10 straight games and 21 of its last 22, but Mortinson says the Chieftains' play is still improving.

We haven't plateaued, he says. We definitely have areas where we can be better in games. We need to knock down our 3- and 4-foot shots. We've missed — or 4 gimmies a game all season and those five or six points we are going to need during the tournament.

The Mustangs will also need all the points they can get. Hidden Valley's biggest challenge tonight will be trying to stop Central's potent offense, which is led by 5-foot-11 junior post Mandy Little and point guard Tia Brungardt. Little, who made all-state as a sophomore, dumped in 41 points earlier this season and Brungardt dropped in 43 in another game, hitting a school-record eight 3-pointers.

It sounds like they've got some pretty good talent so we are going to have our hands full, says Mustangs coach Marty Steiner. We have to see if we can't shut down the inside first. The outside game comes and goes so the focus will be on trying to contain Little on the inside.

Hidden Valley is led by 5-10 senior post Becky Hill, who averages about 12 points a game. Hill and fellow post Tracy Tedsen, who's 5-11, will most likely split time covering Little.

Hidden Valley had won four straight before losing to Rogue River in a seeding game last Tuesday.

We played them a much better game than we had during the season, says Steiner. We're pretty positive. We are playing the best ball we have all season.