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Comets advance to round of 16

CENTRAL POINT — For a half, one red-hot player was enough to knock the Crater Comets off balance. Then the Comets used five to return the favor, unleashing a defensive gem to keep their season going.

The Comets held South Albany to nine points in the second half, including three in the fourth quarter, and rediscovered their offense in plenty of time to pull away for a 43-31 victory in a Class 5A girls basketball play-in game Tuesday at the Crater High gym.

“At halftime, we just talked about our defensive intensity,” Crater coach Scott Dippel said. “We were just losing loose balls, we had rebounds that we were just kind of swatting at, so we played really good defense. It takes a coordinated team effort to guard (Katie Mayhue), she’s that good.”

The visiting Rebels were dismantled by the Comets 60-32 in a preseason game Dec. 7, but looked like a different team while surging to a 22-18 halftime lead, thanks mostly to Mayhue. The lanky senior guard hit four 3-pointers in the first half, including three in the second quarter to negate Crater’s size advantage.

The Comets (20-5) responded at the start of the third by attacking Mayhue with two defenders, and the Rebels (9-16), who struggled to find breathing room inside all night, had no answer.

The win advanced Comets into the round of 16 Friday against Wilsonville (20-4), the Northwest Oregon Conference runner-up.

Crater senior guard Mackenzie Ryerson, who’s been battling the flu since early last week and estimated that she was at 80 percent, drilled back-to-back 3-pointers with just under 3 minutes to go in the third to give the Comets the lead for good, 29-24, and Crater scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to all but finish off the Rebels.

Sydney Gray scored nine of her team-high 14 points in the second half and also led the Comets with 10 rebounds. Junior Nehkyah Ellis also helped turn the tide with her inside presence, finishing with 10 blocks and six boards.

“I think there was a lot of nerves coming out,” Gray said. “We were all nervous and not really playing our best game. But we got a (halftime) break in time to recuperate and we came out and played like we always do. It just felt different.”

Mayhue’s first trey of the second half with 3:34 to go cut Crater’s lead to 37-31 and the Rebels got a stop at the other end to earn a chance to inch closer, but they turned the ball over and Crater’s Maya Van Hook scored inside with two minutes to go to help the Comets breathe a little easier.

After struggling from the free throw line in the first half, going 3-for-8, the Comets hit 8 of 11 from the line in the fourth quarter to keep the Rebels at arm’s distance. South Albany, which rarely attacked the basket and found success there even less, did not attempt a free throw.

Ryerson scored all eight of her points in the third, but Dippel said it was her defense he was most impressed with.

“(Ryerson) definitely, defensively, was the player of the game for us,” Dippel said. “I know that Mayhue hit some really deep 3s on us, but (Ryerson’s) defense overall was the reason we were able to get some contested quick shots out of their offense. And then the 3-pointer on the out-of-bounds play and the 3-pointer coming down in transition were huge.”

“It felt good because, lately, I feel like I haven’t had my touch,” Ryerson said. “Hitting two (3-pointers) in a row kind of made me feel like I had it back a little bit. …Then the team built off it, the crowd kind of got a little rowdy from it, so I think it really helped us.”

South Albany, which finished sixth in the Mid-Willamette Conference and was No. 18 in the OSAA rankings, looked to Mayhue early and the sharpshooter delivered with a series of step-back jumpers, some of which she launched from well beyond the 3-point arc. Her triple with 11 seconds left in the first quarter gave the Rebels an 11-10 lead heading into the second, and she drilled another in transition to give South Albany a 14-10 lead early in the second.

Gray’s steal and fastbreak layin gave the Comets an 18-17 lead with about a minute to go in the second, but Mayhue answered with a 3 with 26 seconds left, then found Victoria Vargas in the corner for a buzzer-beating jumper to send the visitors into the locker room with a four-point lead and all kinds of momentum.

Dippel said he and the Comets had a good talk during intermission.

“‘I told you,’” Dippel said of his halftime message, ‘this is how playoff games are.’ Then I felt like our overall team intensity and communication about where (Mayhue) was, and then rebounding (was better).”

Crater didn’t waste any time playing its hand at the start of the third, sending two defenders to pick up Mayhue as soon as she crossed midcourt. The change-up forced the Rebels to look elsewhere for points, which they never found. Mayhue was held to only five points in the second half, but that was one more than the rest of her team combined.

South Albany coach Trever Ball said the Rebels executed their game plan in the first half, but blamed himself for much of his team’s demise.

“At halftime we felt pretty good with where we were at,” he said. “We made some adjustments and, to be honest, they made some adjustments to those adjustments. …I made some decisions coaching-wise, and that’s on me.”

Crater tied the game for the first time since the first quarter, 22-22, on a runner by Ryerson less than two minutes into the third quarter, and claimed its first lead of the second half on a free throw by Gray with 4:58 to go in the third.

Ryerson’s momentum-grabbing 3s brought the fans to their feet a few minutes later and Crater was rolling.

Now, the Comets will face a Wilsonville team that’s won eight of its last nine games. The winner will advance to the eight-team state tournament, March 6-9 in Corvallis.

“No matter what, you’re going to have to play a good team to get to the tournament,” Dippel said. “We’re one game away. And for our team, we won six games in the summer. We went through some real growing pains, and to be where we’re at — one game away from Corvallis — is quite an accomplishment.”

SOUTH ALBANY (31): Lewis 0, Flores 0, Mayhew 17, Sidowski 2, Angel 0, Maynard 0, Vargas 6, Spriggs 4, Caspino 0, Mitchell 2. Totals: 13 0-0 31.

CRATER (43): Idiart 0, Van Hook 6, Ryerson 8, Robison 0, Gray 14, Ellis 11, A. Woodard 4, Young 0, K. Woodard 0. Totals: 10 12-23 43.

South Albany;11;11;6;3;—;31

Crater;10;8;13;12;—;43

3-point goals — South Albany 5 (Mayhew 5), Crater 2 (Ryerson 2).