LAKE OSWEGO The Class 5A girls basketball playoffs are about eight weeks away, but Sunday might seem like a postseason preview when the Hermiston High Lady Bulldogs meet the Lebanon Warriors in the 22nd annual Nike Interstate Shootout Tournament.
The No. 2 ranked Bulldogs, led by coach Steve Hoffert, certainly proved worthy of their high recognition and moved one step closer to the tournament finals with an impressive 38-15 quarterfinal win over the North Medford Black Tornado (2-4) Saturday at Lake Oswego High School.
"We have a tough game Sunday against Lebanon and it's a great matchup that could be very much like a playoff game," said Hoffert. "We're still learning and getting better, but it should help provide us with a good indication of where we're at in regards to being compared to a high quality team like Lebanon."
The Bulldogs (5-3), winners of four of their last five games, advanced to a semifinals matchup versus No. 1 ranked Lebanon (5-0) at 8 p.m. Sunday. Lebanon, of the Mid Willamette Conference, won 50-34 Saturday over the South Eugene Axemen (2-4) to reach the semis.
If Hermiston wins, they'll play the winner of Sunday's other semifinal between Canby (5-2) and Tualatin (4-1) in Monday's 6:30 p.m. championship game. The Bulldogs are hoping to reach the title game for a second consecutive year.
"We gave up too many easy baskets on Friday (a 38-33 win over Aloha), so we just had to pick up our defensive intensity level and we didn't allow any easy shots today," said Hoffert. "We made North Medford work for everything on offense and they certainly didn't do very well in that aspect of the game."
Hermiston took the early lead over North Medford (2-4), ranked No. 11 in Class 6A from Southern Oregon's Special District 1. The Bulldogs crashed the boards often while utilizing the height of 5-foot-10 junior Abi Drotzman, 5-11 senior McKenzie Byrd and 6-2 senior post Shelby Sanders to gain a rebounding advantage.
"We all have our roles on the team and I think one of my main priorities is to get rebounds and I put lots of effort into trying to do that," said Byrd. "We had strong rebounding and good communication, which were two key factors that helped us get a win."
Hermiston's accurate perimeter shooting was a key their to success in the second quarter when they pulled away by double digits. Ramirez buried a pair of three-point field goals during a 12-3 run to extend the Bulldogs lead to 23-10 with little more than a minute left in the quarter.
Ramirez fired in her third three-pointer to extend the margin to 26-10 with 49 seconds on the clock and it remained that same score at halftime.
It was a hard-fought defensive battle in the third with both squads finding it difficult to score. Nevertheless, Hermiston extended its lead to 28-10 when Ramirez sank two free throws with 7:33 left in the quarter.
Hermiston's solid and aggressive man-to-man defense was the main key to limiting North Medford to just two points in the quarter.
Hermiston's momentum continued in the fourth as Byrd, Jansen Edmiston and Sanders each scored in the paint for a 36-14 lead midway through the quarter. Byrd's rebound and putback shot, followed by Edmiston's driving layup in the middle of the lane and a short jumper in the paint by Sanders highlighted the Bulldog offensive attack.
Two Sanders free throws helped the Bulldogs take their largest lead of the game at 38-15 with 3:27 remaining on the clock. It remained scoreless the remainder of the contest.
North Medford's 15 points was the fewest Hermiston has allowed this year.
Hermiston 38, North Medford 15
Hermiston 11 15 4 8 - 38
North Medford 7 3 2 3 - 15
Hermiston (38) - Sara Ramirez 12, McKenzie Byrd 10, Shelby Sanders 8, Kynzee Padilla 4, Jansen Edmiston 4.
North Medford (15) - Savannah Bumgardner 6, Sarah Koistinen 6, Jocilynn Ellis 3.