By Jeremy McDonald
STAYTON, Ore.–The last two years, the Stayton Lady Eagles have been to the first-round of the 4A playoffs, but nothing more as they hoped third time was the charm as they laced up their sneakers for a showdown with a Mazama team that’s been to the Elite 8 and the State Final Site in years past.
Both teams grinded to a baseball score of 5-3 after the first quarter and it was a low-scoring football game at halftime at 12-7. But it was a 7-0 run by the Vikings that left the Lady Eagles going to the locker room wondering what different they can do against Mazama’s looks?
When they came out for the second half however, they slowly got back into the game and by the end of the third quarter and thanks in part to three’s from KJ Nyquist and Alli Nyquist, they were down 18-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Lexi Smart helped get the boards going as her, Marri Martinez and Alexa Bender helped feed the offense as Martinez’ offense helped Stayton to stay toe-and-toe with Mazama.
Smart overheard Head Coach Darren Shryock and Mazama’s Joy Lease talking about the battle of two of the State’s best defense’s as Smart too recalls KJ Nyquist going around and say, ‘Believe’.
“It was super physical defensively and it really came down to defense and getting the momentum getting that first point, (Alyssa Smart) drove and made her free throw and getting that first point really got us the momentum I feel like,” said Lexi Smart.
Martinez said that, the intensity they lacked in the first half, they got in the second half as they traded blows with the Lady Viks,
“We didn’t come out with the kind of intensity as we wanted and then in the second half we changed it around,” said Martinez, who scored six of her 10 points in the fourth quarter. “(We) came out with the intensity that we need. We know how to play and we know what to do and we did it.”
They needed that defense as Smart referred to, they needed that intensity that Martinez said as Landy Williams cut it to two with two minutes to play as their pressure allowed Alli Nyquist to go to the line where she made 1-of-2 to give Stayton a 27-24 lead.
Mazama drove down before the Lady Eagles got the ball back with the crowd going crazy, but they couldn’t expand their lead on the board. Eventually, still matching the intensity and challenging the Vikings to beat them and their sound defense as Mazama’s was doing all night as well, KJ Nyquist stole the ball and put Stayton up 28-24 with 29 seconds left.
As the Eagle Student Section started to get rowdy, the Lady Vikings were hoping for a fluky four-point play or something to possibly tie the game, but it never came as Stayton sealed the 30-24 win to send them to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2008 when they finished fifth in the State.
For seniors like Lexi Smart and Bender, they didn’t want this game to be their last, they sure as heck didn’t want to be shutout of the Elite 8 in their High School careers as they get to experience it this time around.
“I can’t even…it feels so good,” “I’m so proud of not only Alexa but every, single person on our team as came together to make this. It’s not one single person, it’s every single person on this team coming together as a unit and it feels so good to play like how we know how to play.”
“It’s the absolute best feeling ever,” said Bender. “I lost hope for a little bit but we came back and it’s an amazing feeling doing it with my best friends too that’s even better. Just getting there, that’s just it, it’s amazing.”
Bender also too said that they want to bring home some hardware back to Stayton this year, and they got two-games to win at least one-game to make it happen. But it all starts March 8 versus rival-Cascade at Pacific University at 6:30pm.