Jefferson Advances In 3A Playoffs

By Jeremy McDonald

CRESWELL, Ore.–  History nearly repeated itself for the Jefferson Girls Basketball team when it came to the postseason and it hasn’t been a nice one either for the Lions program.

Over the course of the program’s history, they’ve never won a playoff game.  They came close in 1989 in the then 3A double-elimination 16-team bracket when they lost to Astoria and Vale 49-45 and 55-51 respectively.  They fell in a close 54-50 game to Monroe in the 1993 2A Playoffs.  25 years later in their final year in 3A until this season, they fell to Rainier 60-44 with a chance to go to Coos Bay on the line that year.

And with four seconds left in the game against Creswell in the year 2023, they led by three and their opposition having the ball in hand.  Staring down the barrel of Groundhog Day repeating itself or making it an alternate ending to their playoff woes in their eventual 47-44 victory on the road.  Yeah, that’s right, Jefferson finally got over the hump and snapped that particular playoff drought by buckling down and shutting down the Bulldog threat at the buzzer to advance in the 3A State Playoffs.

It was a mindset.  A mindset of one play at a time, and surely they needed it with how aggressive this game was.  Amira Saad described  Creswell as aggressive and the crowd rowdy, something they’ll more than likely see Friday at Sutherlin, a team that PacWest Conference foe Amity has defeated twice this year as the Umpqua Valley Bulldogs stand in the way of a trip to Coos Bay for the double elimination bracket.

“We have to do the same kind of thing, we need to keep our nerves down.  I feel like we get very anxious, especially when they have really big and loud crowds like that…so I feel like we need to stay calm and take it slow, run our offense and push the ball.  Take it one play at a time just to get through the game,” Saad said.

The Lions were knocking on the door of tearing this game open in the first half, seemingly in control of the game despite shots not falling.  Jefferson’s biggest lead was six in the opening half and the Lions weathered the early second half surge by Creswell to build a 43-33 lead following a Gwyn Orton three-pointer with 4:33 left in the game.  The Bulldogs drew the Lions back to within six, but Emily Kunkel pushed Jefferson’s lead to eight with 2:20 

Jefferson, after leading by ten midway through the fourth quarter, held on to pick up their first playoff win in program history (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

But that was the last moment, with Jefferson leading 45-37, that the Lions had any kind of breathing room.  Over the course of the next 2:16 of the game, Creswell used a 7-2 run behind using the little things with rebounding, creating turnovers and drawing fouls to climb back to a position in which they were in with four seconds left in the game.  Down three and the Bulldogs looking for the three-point play to force overtime or a rare four-point game to win it.

Jefferson’s game with Amity on February 13 popped into their consciousness.  Up four with 1:12 left in the game, they let off the gas and the Warriors snuck up and took a victory away from the Lions on Jefferson’s Senior Night.  This time around, no such thing was going to happen as they clutched up and denied their host Creswell  from doing what Amity had done to them recently.

“It requires a lot of focus, we can’t let up.  That Amity game, we started to let up and they let up, this time we really persevered until the end,” Kunkel said.  “We just need to focus on one thing at a time and one play at a time.  It can be a little bit overwhelming to think about the whole big picture, but if we think about one thing at a time and one play at a time.  If a play doesn’t work out, we need to forget it, learn from it and move on.”

And that’ll be the most crucial part for them as they head to play Sutherlin in a few days, knowing it’ll only get tougher from here.  But for now, they head back home knowing they achieved something special in the process.

“It feels so great…it’s crazy that we got here and we actually pulled it through.  I’m excited to go to Sutherlin on Friday and hopefully we pull another win and go to Coos Bay afterwards,” Saad said.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” adds Kunkel.  “It feels awesome that we worked together as a team and pull through this.  (Creswell) is a really hard place to play.  It’s the loudest place we’ve ever played and we were able to play through that pressure and just keep our heads up and keep playing.”

Saad and Gretchen Orton each scored 14 points for the Lions.  Kunkel added another 13 in the win.  Samairah Quinones led the Bulldogs with 16 points with Dakota Carson contributed another 15 for Creswell leading the squad with 15 points.

Photos By Jeremy McDonald


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