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Beaverton girls' headed back to Moda Center


by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Danielle Hartzog (left) of Beaverton steals the ball from Belle Diouf (right) of Sheldon in the first quarter.

Clackamas, consider yourself forewarned.

The Beaverton girls’ basketball squad — possibly the most dangerous 6A state tournament team and the Cavaliers’ foe in the quarterfinals — is on fire right now, the unit playing its best basketball on both ends of the floor at the opportune time.

And, after incinerating Sheldon, 78-55, in the second round of the 6A playoffs on Friday, the Beavers want nothing more than another shot at the Moda Center and, one more chance to clip the Cavaliers, who beat Beaverton twice this season.

“I think tonight showed we’re coming,” said sophomore guard Alyssa Christansen. “We’re going to play as hard as we can, and we’re going to get after it. We had to play tough and with each other. We had to go out hard and with a lot of effort.”

“We came with a lot of energy and played really well as a team,” added sophomore forward Meghan Distifeno. “We played more as a whole instead of playing individually. It was really awesome to see. Everyone on the bench was so loud and into it. We played like sisters.”

Carving up the Irish with grungy, sprightly defense and unselfish passing, Beaverton put out its best overall effort of the season, dismantling Sheldon with a 17-1 lead early in the first quarter that wobbled the Special District One champs.

Senior guard Danielle Hartzog was Beaverton’s turbocharger in the first quarter, scoring eight points to go along with two assists and a pair of steals. Hartzog’s pilfer and lefty lay-up gave the Beavers a 9-0 advantage. Alison Mueller scored on a fastbreak bucket, Christansen canned an elbow jumper, and Hartzog put home a backdoor pass from Gigi Stoll to open up a 17-5 lead with 41.8 seconds left.

“We talked before the game about how my role is to be an energy player,” said Hartzog. “When I come out, I have to set the tone and be an example for my team on defense and offense. I have to bring the energy and the want to win and get to the Moda Center.”

Beaverton’s omnipresent 2-3 zone was in full effect, consuming Sheldon’s guards out near halfcourt and suppressing its posts whenever the ball dared go down low. Whether it was a turnover or not, the Beavers seemed to get their hands on every pass, which altogether disrupted the Irishes’ attack and took them out of their preferred attack areas.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Allison Mueller of Beaverton leads a fast break down the floor.

“You could feel how bad we wanted it from the very beginning,” said Hartzog. “When we come out with that much energy and play so hard on defense, it kind of knocks the other team on its heels because they’re not ready for it. Sheldon’s a good team, and they wanted it. But, in the end, I think we wanted it more.”

“This was a must-win game,” added Mueller. “We knew we had to come out and play our best to get that win and go to the Moda Center. We were just on fire, trying to get steals, force turnovers, which is what we always do. But, tonight we knew we had to pull this out.”

Sense of urgency

The Beavers’ sense of urgency was palpable throughout, as Beaverton played in energetic unison, rationing out shots to each other and mincing up Sheldon’s shifting defenses.

Hartzog found Dagny McConnell for an easy hoop to start the second quarter, then Christansen drained three off a post pass from McConnell. Distifeno stole a cross-court pass, drove into the open floor, faked a pass to Hartzog and laid it in for two to go up 31-15.

Stoll sank a three, McConnell hit a jumper after a Christansen drive-and-kick, and Hartzog weaved through Sheldon’s shoddy transition defense for a lefty hoop.

Another Hartzog lay-up, and Stoll’s third three of the game from the top of the key following a ball reversal from Distifeno, crowned a 19-0 run that gave Beaverton a commanding 44-15 halftime lead.

“I feel like we did this the right way, putting them early,” said Stoll. “This could’ve been our last game, so we wanted to leave everything on the table. We wanted to come out with everything we had.”

Beaverton’s ball and player movement on offense was splendid all night as the Beavers selflessly hummed the rock around the outskirts of Sheldon’s defense and cut hard to make themselves available for open shots.

In all, Beaverton finished with 14 assists, befuddling the Irish with offensive organization and execution. Hartzog led the Beavers with 20 points. Stoll scored 17. McConnell and Christansen each tacked on 14 points, and Mueller scored 10.

“We did a really good job of finding the open player and not forcing passes,” said Mueller. “We looked for who had the best open shot.”

“We did a great job of attacking the basket and kicking it out to shooters,” added Christiansen. “We knocked down shots, crashed the glass and got offensive rebounds.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Dagny McConnell (left) of Beaverton blocks the shot of Sheldons Karina Clark (center) as Danielle Hartzog (right) also defends.

Beaverton tallied assists on its first five possessions of the third quarter, making the extra pass again and again and converting its stingy defense into easy opportunities on the other end of the floor. Distifeno’s offensive board and spoon-fed dime to Christansen brought the Beavers’ lead up to 53-29. The sophomore forward found McConnell for a lay-up along the baseline, then Hartzog wrapped a pass around an Irish post to McConnell for another two that put Beaverton up 61-36 at the end of the third.

The Beavers led by as much as 30 points in the fourth.

“We shared the ball really well, so that created opportunities for other players,” said Distifeno. “Sharing the ball and passing more rather than looking for individual shots made (Sheldon’s) defense guard the ball, and that left us open.”

In the groove

Of the eight state tourney girls’ basketball teams going to the Moda Center this week, few are playing better than Beaverton.

Winners of 10 out of the last 11 games, the Beavers have found a groove and completely bought into head coach Jay Ego’s push-the-ball, get-out-and-defend-like-mad methods.

They’ve beaten four of the seven other tournament teams, though Clackamas clubbed the Beavers by double-digits in both of the teams’ regular-season meetings. The Cavaliers got out to big leads in each of the contests and held Hartzog to a combined 17 points in both games. However, much has changed since the latest matchup on Jan. 14.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Alyssa Christiansen (right) of Beaverton drives against Karina Clark (left) of Sheldon during the third quarter.

Christansen’s emerged as a bona fide playmaker at point guard, which has taken pressure off Hartzog and allowed the all-league guard to play off the ball and create plays. McConnell’s confidence has grown with an increased workload, and her effort on defense, trying to block any shot that comes in her vicinity, has also evolved. Stoll’s sweltering from the three-point line as of late, and Mueller’s been a rock on defense.

The fifth-ranked Beavers — who went to the state tourney last year, but didn’t place after going two-and-out — say they simply have to follow the same formula that’s been working for them all season.

“I think we can do big things there,” said Hartzog. “We can go as far as we want to. We just have to keep playing as hard as we are right now and keep playing with the same heart.”