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Comets dispatch Dragons, advance to state

CENTRAL POINT — Overachievers or not, the Crater girls basketball team raised the bar once again Saturday and will now be packing their bags for Corvallis and the Class 5A girls basketball state tournament.

After Dallas answered Crater’s initial surge, the poised Comets used timely runs and scrappy defensive play to hold off the Dragons for a 44-36 first-round playoff victory at Crater High School.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a team,” said Crater coach David Heard. “They have overachieved more than any team I’ve ever coached. I’ve had some teams that were really good but the expectations of those teams were that you get to state, and you have to win it. Until that happens, you don’t know if you’ve overachieved. For this team to get to state, they’ve overachieved and they’ve played together, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

The seventh-seeded Comets (21-4), who placed second in the Midwestern League, will next take on Corvallis in the state quarterfinals at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at Gill Coliseum. Corvallis topped Springfield, 78-44, in other action Saturday.

After storming out to a 16-4 lead in the first period, coach Heard hoped to put Dallas (14-11) away with another big run to start the second, but the opposite happened. The 10th-seeded Dragons went on a 7-0 run to open the second quarter and cut the lead to one by halftime and made it a game in the third quarter.

Evie Kent, Crater’s 6-foot post, set the tone early with her hustle and activity in the paint. Kent registered the Comets’ first points off an offensive rebound and converted the three-point play, recorded a block and added another putback to help her team get out to a 7-2 lead. Later in the period, Mallory Heard drilled a 3-pointer at the top of the arc to make the score 15-2 with two minutes to play in the opening period.

Dallas, however, didn’t waste time countering in the second quarter. Olivia Nelson connected on a 3-pointer despite being fouled and converted a four-point play to fuel the Dragons’ 7-0 run that forced the Comets to take a timeout with a 16-11 lead. Late in the frame, the Dragons’ Katie Senger and Becca Ronco hit back-to-back treys to cut the Comets’ lead to 19-17. Nelson hit another 3-pointer to trim Crater’s lead to 21-20, and Kent’s emphatic block along the baseline with 40 seconds left in the period helped the Comets hold that score into halftime.

Mackenzie Ryerson’s 3-pointer to open the second half put the Comets up 24-20 but Crater’s offense went stale and Nelson’s third splash from beyond the arc drew a foul and gave the Dragons their first lead of the game, 26-24, with around two minutes left in the third period. She was in line for her second four-point play of the game but missed her free throw.

The Dragons’ lead was brief as Heard responded by splitting a double-team on the right wing and laying up over a defender in the post to knot the score at 26-all. Kent put the Comets back up for good with an offensive rebound and a baseline jumper with 1:35 to go in the third.

After Alexus Woodard’s jumper put the Comets up 32-26 early in the fourth quarter, Heard provided some cushion with a steal and a transition 3-pointer to go up 35-26. Senger knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to get the Dragons within 39-34 but Crater’s Aleesa Yother, who went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth, made a big block on a 3-pointer with 1:23 remaining and the Comets were able to seal the victory.

“At the beginning of the season, Dave told us to take pride on defense and I think that’s what brought us back from the brink, taking pride on defense and taking pride in our team,” said Kent.

Kent finished with nine points, 10 rebounds — six offensive — and two blocks.

Despite eight turnovers, Mallory Heard went for 10 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal.

Sydney Gray’s activity was vital as eight of her nine rebounds were on the offensive end. She added nine points and a steal, while Ryerson finished with nine points on three 3-pointers.

Nelson and Senger finished with 11 points apiece for the Dragons.

DALLAS (36): Nelson 11, Classen 0, Dippell 5, Senger 11, Tallon 6, Ronco 3. Totals: 13 3-9 36.

CRATER (44): Yother 3, Ryerson 9, Heard 10, Gray 9, Ellis 0, Woodard 4, Kent 9. Totals: 15 10-20 44.

Dallas;4;16;6;10;—;36

Crater;16;5;9;14;—;44

3-point goals — Dallas 7 (Nelson 3, Senger 3, Ronco 1), Crater 5 (Ryerson 3, Heard 2).

Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4492, or email wblenkush@mailtribune.com