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Loggers happy to have Hamilton home again

Senior wing boosts sixth-ranked Butte Falls' postseason hopes for a third straight state berth

BUTTE FALLS ' Amanda Hamilton is thrilled to be back at Butte Falls.

And Loggers girls basketball coach B.J. Rodgers is just as happy to have the sharp-shooting 5-foot-7 senior wing back on his squad.

After attending school in Butte Falls since the fourth grade, Hamilton moved going into her junior year because her family opened a restaurant in Cave Junction.

She returned to Butte Falls as a senior to be able to graduate with friends from the small Jackson County school that sits in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin.

Hamilton's return is one reason Rodgers is optimistic sixth-ranked Butte Falls will have greater postseason success than the past two years, when the Loggers failed to win a game at the Class 1A state tournament in Baker City.

The 53-year-old Rodgers has directed the Loggers to eight state berths and 12 district appearances in 13 years. His best state finish is fifth in 1990.

Butte Falls begins its quest for a third consecutive state tournament spot Friday when the Skyline A League district tournament begins at McNeal Pavilion on the campus of Southern Oregon University.

The tournament format has the respective Southern and Northern division girls and boys winners matching up, with the No. — state seed at stake. The winner in a runner-up games face the loser of division champs to determine the No. 2 team to state.

The Loggers (20-5 overall) meet fifth-ranked Days Creek (19-5) at 5:45 p.m. Friday. Elkton (15-8) and Hosanna Christian (13-9) play in the second-place game.

As for Hamilton, the move to Cave Junction did not suit her either socially or athletically. She didn't embrace the atmosphere of a bigger school. And she didn't relish a position change to center ' matching up against taller, stronger players in the Skyline Conference.

To play here is home, says Hamilton while sitting on the wooden bleachers in the Loggers' old-fashioned, classic gym during a weekday practice. This is where I learned to play. This is where I developed my skills.

Though the experience at Illinois Valley High is one Hamilton would have preferred to avoid, it improved her skills in the long run.

It also impacted her future because that's where Hamilton met and became engaged to Justin Graven ' a standout on last year's Cougar basketball team.

It was really hard going against bigger girls, says Hamilton, who started most of the year for the 3-19 Cougars. I learned how to play more physical. When I came back here, I found I was more aggressive. It made me a better player.

Rodgers concurs.

She brought an attitude to the team we haven't had before, explains Rodgers. She's not going to get shoved around.

Rodgers recognized Hamilton's natural shooting ability while she was coming up through the ranks in the program.

As a sophomore, she was inserted into the starting lineup at the district tournament because of an injury and responded by tossing in six 3-pointers.

She has a shooter's mentality, says Rodgers. She isn't afraid of shooting the ball.

The Illinois Valley experience made Hamilton a better all-around player. Not only has she continued to be an outside threat, but she's developed an inside arsenal.

Hamilton is shooting 54 percent from the field, averaging 16&

189; points and pulling down seven rebounds a contest. She went 6-of-7 from 3-point territory and scored a season-high 31 points against Days Creek earlier in the season.

But Hamilton isn't the only reason the Loggers have a good chance of advancing out of the district tournament.

Rodgers has a versatile and experienced team.

The Loggers are directed on the court by 5-2 junior point guard Brianna Smeltz, who took over as a starter midway through her freshman year.

Smeltz has good court savvy. She averages seven points, four assists and four steals.

How we go is how well she runs our offense, says Rodgers, and the decisions she makes on the floor.

The Loggers use a double post offense with a pair of capable juniors ' sturdy 6-footer Sarah Matthews and 5-10 Cassy Bartel. The two combine for better than 18 points and 17 rebounds a game.

Senior Krystle Rowley completes the starting lineup. Rowley, the team's most dangerous 3-point shooter, averages nine points.

The primary players off the bench are senior Kayla McKibbin, junior Hope Vanlandingham and freshmen Mickie Burns and Elysia Rodgers.

Coach Rodgers states this is both the best shooting and most cohesive team during his tenure at the school.

The veteran coach doesn't see any complacency slipping into the players' habits. The team's failure to win a game at state the previous two years is a motivator.

It is sticking in the girls' gut, says Rodgers. That's for sure.

And the return of Amanda Hamilton might be the ingredient needed to help the Loggers go further than any team of the program's past.

Boys

Junior Kelly Harrington emerged as the take-charge guy for Southern Division champion Butte Falls (19-5).

Harrington leads the team in scoring average (15 points) and rebounding (12).

Second-year coach Lance Bruce moved Harrington to the post this season after playing both point guard and wing in the past.

Undersized at 6-1, Harrington is effective because of his decision-making ability.

He understands the game so well, says Bruce, 29. He recognizes the defenses and can distribute the ball. He's a big body and always gets good position.

Senior point guard Isaac Stephenson provides the spark to the Loggers' fast-paced, run-and-gun offense.

The 5-5 Stephenson averages eight points, five assists and four steals.

Isaac makes the offense happen with his quickness and attitude, says Bruce. He's tough.

Stephenson will have an important matchup against Elkton all-league point guard Richie Higgins in the Loggers' district opener.

Higgins, the player of the year in the Northern Division, has a similar style to Stephenson.

Senior wing Jed Rowden is the Loggers' second-leading scorer. The senior wing averages 12 points and six rebounds.

Seniors Darren Hampton and Tony Beals complete the starting unit.

This is the Loggers' first trip to the district tournament since 2000. Butte Falls needs one victory at district to make it back to state for the first time since 1993.

Butte Falls? Amanda Hamilton leads the Skyline A Southern Division champion Loggers into Friday night?s showdown with North champ Days Creek. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli