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Crater girls face familiar foe at state

Crater isn’t likely to face any surprises when it opens the Class 5A girls basketball state tournament Tuesday.

The Comets will play at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, which is home to Oregon State.

They will face fellow Midwestern League school Churchill, which owns two victories over Crater this season.

Churchill captured the MWL championship with a 16-0 record, has a 22-4 overall mark and is seeded fourth. Crater finished second in league, is 22-3 and is the fifth seed.

They play at 3:15 p.m., with the winner advancing to the semifinals at 1:15 p.m. Thursday against either No. 1 seed Silverton or No. 8 Ridgeview.

Crater got in a morning practice at Gill on Monday, and the venue was not new to the players. This is the Comets' fourth straight trip to the finals site, and coach Scott Dippel had the foresight to put his team in the Beavers’ basketball camp last summer.

“One of the reasons we went,” he said, “is so that they could get used to the floor and get used to the facilities. I don’t think that part is intimidating.”

Still, there probably will be butterflies.

“It’s still exciting,” said Dippel. “I still get jitters, and so do the girls. You walk out and get to sit in the seats that you see these great Pac-12 coaches using on the sidelines. And the girls realize (OSU’s) Mikayla Pivec plays here all the time and (Oregon’s) Sabrina Ionescu plays here. It’s a great experience for the girls. I’m glad they do it there.”

Churchill brings its own familiarity. The Lancers defeated visiting Crater, 36-29, in Eugene on Jan. 21, and topped the Comets, 43-36, on Feb. 25 in Central Point.

“Although I’m not real excited about a matchup with Churchill,” said Dippel, “to have that be your first game, a real familiar foe, that does help the kids adjust to the environment as well. It does kind of calm the nerves a bit.”

Crater placed fifth at the state tournament last season, a year after going 0-2 at the tourney. In 2017, David Heard’s last season as coach, the Comets were sixth.

The Comets are looking for their first state championship. Their best finishes were seconds in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

The first meeting between Crater and Churchill this season was a defensive struggle on each side. In their second matchup, both teams made adjustments to varying degrees of success.

“This game is going to come down to, what did both teams find that worked in the first two games and who can execute that game plan the best,” said Dippel.

A key for Crater will be improved rebounding, particularly from its guards. Churchill will contest shots — “You don’t get a lot of open shots,” said Dippel — and when they don’t fall, the Comets must be active on the boards.

“In the last four or five games, our guards have been rebounding really well,” said Dippel, “especially on the offensive end. I’m hoping that kind of change for us will create more opportunities on the offensive end and we can get those second-chance points.”

Senior post Averi Young had a dominant first quarter in Crater’s 54-30 playoff win over West Albany Friday. With continued strong play from her and fellow posts Kayana Woodard, a senior, and junior Madison Dutkiewicz, said Dippel, Churchill’s defense will have to defend inside and out, thereby leaving the Comet guards more room to shoot.

Defensively, Crater will have its hands full.

The Lancers are led by sophomore wing Danika Starr, one of the state’s top players.

“We can’t give up any transition points to her,” said Dippel. “She gets herself going if she can get a couple breakaways. We’ve got to try to get the ball out of her hands and not let her get it back, which is very difficult to do. It has to be a team effort. You don’t have an individual kid you can assign that to.”

Twin senior guards Natalie and Sophie Elstone are dangerous spot-up shooters who don’t get enough credit, said Dippel.

Crater is led in scoring and rebounding by McKenzie Hirsch, a sophomore guard/post, and Young.

Hirsch averages 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, and Young averages 9.0 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Junior guard Taryn Dance leads in assists (2.2) and steals (2.4). Senior guard Presley Robison is second in assists (1.7), and Hirsch is second in steals (2.0).

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

McKenzie Hirsch leads Crater in scoring and is second in rebounding heading into the state tournament Tuesday.