By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.– Games like this brings out the heart in team’s and certainly both Western Mennonite and Santiam Girls showed a lot of that, grit and passion in Tuesday evenings Tri-River League showdown in the little town of Mill City.
Just as the Lady Wolverines started to put some distance between themselves and the Lady Pioneers going up 18-12 following a Brittany Grenbemer shot, Makenna Hopper and Annika Hess sparked a 9-2 run that stretched into the third quarter that gave Western Mennonite a brief 21-20 lead with 6:15 left in the game.
Brief being that McKenzie Dodge quickly gave Santiam a 22-21 lead seconds after giving up the lead as the game was heating up in the intensity of the game and fouls being called out by the referees on the court.
“It was definitely a tough one and we played them before and it was a close game, we gave up a lead because we didn’t have our heads in the game. In this (game), we had our heads in the game in the beginning and I think we kind of gave up towards the second half,” said Dodge, describing the frustrations of the game and matching the runs by Western Mennonite. “It was definitely important because this was a game we should have won and so we really needed those comebacks.”
“It’s all about heart and we definitely had more heart and that’s why we came out with the win and it was tough but we fought,” said Peyton Hopper on matching the Lady Wolverines intensity and staying in the physical game.
The older Hopper, though standing five-three, made two of the biggest shots of the game with two big three’s as Peyton Hopper that gave the Western Mennonite team and their fanbase that made the trip along Highway 22 some momentum and cruical energy.
However, Dodge and Maddy White seemingly sucked that momentum out of their oppositions sails by tying the game at 27 that remained entering the fourth quarter before both sides scrambled for the ball throughout the fourth quarter and those all important free throws became as clutch as the shots were prior to the fourth quarter.
Twenty free throw attempts were rewarding, 17 going to to Western Mennonite who made nine of them during the fourth frame and Santiam counteracted those free throws with eight points coming from their offense and another point coming off a free throw by Dodge that made it 32-31 Lady Wolverines.
With 1:02 left and Santiam needing a basket down 37-34 thanks to a 6-2 advantage by Western Mennonite, Dodge drove to the hoop and made the basket but couldn’t land the tying shot. Jasmyn Clark and the Lady Wolverine’s defense put pressure on the Lady Pio’s inbound offense, picking up steals on several occasions but Santiam couldn’t land the decisive shot to tie and/or go-ahead of Western Mennonite and were forced to foul for more offensive opportunities.
That’s where Hess, who ended up going to the line eight times, went three-for-four down the stretch to ice the 40-36 win to move the Western Mennonite Girls to 3-0 in league play with St. Paul Friday on the road.
“Very important, we had some that we missed earlier in the game that messed us up too,” said Hess on the free throws as the junior finished with 12 points in the win.
After starting the season 4-9 entering league, the Lady Pioneers now sit 7-9 and the fortunes of the squad are looking up with the Buckaroos, Kennedy on Tuesday and Central Linn next Friday to wrap up the first-half of league.
“It’s amazing, we all have great teammates and we all really work well together and our coach really coaches us and I think that shows on the court,” said Peyton Hopper, who had 17 points in the win. “Just continue to work hard in practice and work hard off the court and making sure we’re doing the right things.”
For Santiam, who found themselves starting the season 8-4 after winning the Crusaders New Year’s Invitational Tournament bracket they were in, now sit 1-2 in TRL-play with East Linn Christian Academy Friday, St. Paul Wednesday and Kennedy next Friday to close out the first-half of league play as they look to reverse their fortunes.
“This definitely comes to show that we need to get our heads into the game sooner and communicate better at the start and not wait until the second half and go at it from the beginning,” said Dodge who finished with 17 points herself in the game.
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Photos By Jeremy McDonald