By Jeremy McDonald
ST. PAUL, Ore.–For the first time since they were in 1A during the 2013-2014 season, St. Paul are going back in the Elite 8.
After their 66-28 win in front of the nearly packed crowd in their home gym for the last time, the Lady Buckaroos gave them something to cheer about one last time in the town of about 421 people.
With the student section singing “Sweet Caroline” and a member of the student section running around the gym dressed in a all blue get-up during timeouts in the third quarter, St. Paul led Bonzana 46-22 entering their final eight minutes at home.
Through the physicality of the second quarter and their strong start to the game well during the first 24 minutes, it was their hope to be in this situation late.
“We knew it was going to be really important to build ourselves up at the beginning because we just wanted to get a good lead on them and then we just had to continue to push through it without letting up because we tend to do that,” said Isabelle Wyss on building and sustaining the lead. “We’ll get a lead and we’re satisfied, so we just wanted to keep going and that’s what we did.”
Wyss scored 8 of the first 12 points for St. Paul as the sophomore finished with 16 points, and as they went into and coming out of the quarter break, the sound-system started playing good old Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ after the home crowd was singing it for what seemed like the last 30 seconds of the third quarter.
But call it the Diamond-magic or knowing what was at stake, the Buckaroos came out and pushed their lead to 49-22 that was then pushed to 52-22 after Wyss’ And-one.
It was pushed to 54-22 after Logan Robinson two-for-two in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter before the Antlers cut it to 30 with 5:30 to play, then to 28 with 4:34 left.
As time trickled down to two minutes, up 58-28, the crowd was quiet as St. Paul moved the ball around trying to milk the clock.
For Robinson, to be able to enjoy this moment with her teammates one last-time on home court knowing a trip to Pendleton was a few minutes away.
“It’s amazing, being apart of this group, being apart of these girls…just to click with all of them, we have so much connection,” said the Senior. “But to be able to go and having the opportunity to compete is amazing is amazing.”
Robinson and Dessa Coleman were subbed out with 1:42 left in the game to loud, echoing cheers by the crowd as the two seniors were leaving the home court for the last time of their High School careers as they took a seat on the bench for the last 102 seconds of the game.
Megan Tuck connected on a pair of free throws with 1:05 left to push the Buckaroo’s into the 60’s at 61 as excitement built with St. Paul getting five more points onto the board before the final buzzer rang.
And as that final buzzer rang and Claude Smith’s voice, as it had all game long, echoed out throughout the gym that the Lady Buckaroos were going to the Big Show here in a few days; the girls were hugging each other. Laughing and smiling out of excitement in knowing that they are part of something special as they were heading to Pendleton for the first time since the 1970s as well as making their debut in the Elite 8 in their last year at 2A.
“I actually…I don’t even know what to think of it about it because I’ve never been in this position especially with basketball. I’ve gone with volleyball twice and we haven’t done it with basketball yet so being the first one in a long time is really cool,” described Wyss.
The last time they were in the Elite 8, they finished third in the 1A State Tournament in 2013-2014 and their opening game Thursday will not be easy at all.
They open bracket play against the third-seed Oakland Oakers (26-2, 12-2 Mountain View Conference) at 6:30pm at Pendleton High School Thursday evening and their lone two-losses both coming way of Monroe during league play. The Lady Dragons won the State Championship last year and enter the State Elite 8 as the number 2 seed behind number 1 Kennedy.
But for the Lady Buckaroos, it’s just a matter of preparing and playing there game
“I think we need to play like we usually do. Just play our style and stay calm and just go out there and do what we always do,” said Wyss. “We’re just going to take this thing and we’re going to use this energy to just go out there and go as far as we can. That’s what we’re planning to do.”
And Robinson, like Coleman, are guaranteed two more games with the hopes of a third come Saturday, it’s all about enjoying the moment at hand as well as helping her team.
“Just having fun and playing our game, enjoying every moment of it,” said Robinson, who had 14 points in the win. “Just playing together.”
Erin Counts had 15 points for St. Paul and Tuck had 11 as the Lady Bucks had four scorers in double-figures Friday night.
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Photos By Jeremy McDonald