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Beavers push Panthers to the brink, can't close in 6A semis


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - South Medford Panthers guard Ashley Bolston powers through Beaverton Beavers guard Allison Mueller in the second half of the 6A girls semifinals at Moda Center.

The story was there for Beaverton to write.

Behind 43-40 to South Medford in the 6A girls’ semifinals on Friday, Gigi Stoll and Alyssa Christansen aggressively pursued the basketball enough to force Panther senior Ashley Bolston to dribble it off her shoelace and across the halfcourt line, giving possession back to Beaverton.

With 34.6 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, a Beaver two would’ve cut the lead to one point and extended the game. A three would’ve tied it. But, the Beavers could not pen that tale at the Moda Center.

South Medford face guarded Stoll and Christansen for 15 seconds, closing off Beaverton’s best hopes for a game-tying bucket from three-point land.

Forced to get something, anything, on the board, Lexis Miller-Moylan drove to the rack, but was met by a profusion of Panthers who provoked a challenged miss with 10 seconds left.

Panther sophomore Julissa Tago —who torched the Beavers in the first half —plunged the dagger into Beaverton’s still-beating heart, hitting two free throws that padded the lead and ultimately gave South Medford a 45-40 semifinal win.

“Honestly, that game could have been for first and second place in state,” said junior post Dagny McConnell. “We really wanted it at the end. It was hard because we weren’t hitting shots at all and they definitely were. They held the ball and controlled the tempo at the end.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Beavers power forward Shaunta Jackson (52) reacts after drawing an offensive foul against South Medford Panthers in the second half of the 6A girls semifinals at Moda Center.

For Beaverton — who was down by as much as 10 in the third quarter, but rallied furiously in the fourth by venturing from its 2-3 zone to a ferocious man-to-man attack— it was a noble, yet bitter final chapter to what was a storybook comeback in many ways.

Miller-Moylan’s hoop late in the third got the ball rolling for Beaverton. Danielle Hartzog concocted a steal and calmly pushed a floater in to cut the lead to 39-33. Shaunta Jackson stepped in front of Tago, took a charge, then Christansen swished an 11-foot pull-up jumper to pull within 41-35 going into the fourth quarter.

“We knew we were in a pretty good place to come back,” said Stoll. “We weren’t down too much, so we just wanted to come back, try our best and get our defense up. We got a swing, but couldn’t really pull through and get ahead.”

When push comes to shove, the Beavers just couldn’t hit that big bucket against the Panthers that would’ve put them over the proverbial hump and shifted the game’s momentum in their favor. Beaverton shot just 32.7 percent from the field and made only 2-14 from three-point land.

The Beavers won the takeaway battle, doubling up South Medford to the tune of 16 forced turnovers versus only seven on Beaverton’s behalf. But, in the first three quarters, their shots more times than not went off-target, which let South Medford corner the basketball in the fourth and unremittingly whittle the clock down with its motion offense and intelligent passing.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Gigi Stoll puts up a jumper against South Medford Panthers in the second half of the 6A girls semifinals at Moda Center.

“We really just couldn’t convert today,” said Stoll. “We had a lot of good looks that we couldn’t finish. It was just hard scoring for us today. We couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”

Neither team scored in the fourth until Christiansen spun into the lane, faked out Bolston with a shimmy shake and banked in a jump hook to cut Medford’s lead to 41-37 with 4:51 left. South Medford’s stalling tactic, holding the ball for minutes at a time, made Beaverton come out of the 2-3 zone and into a man-to-man scheme because of the dwindling clock and diminishing amount of possessions.

“We just couldn’t get the ball in our hands and when we did it was a struggle,” said McConnell.

Jackson made one of two free throws, and Hartzog hit two at the charity stripe with 1:16 to go in the fourth. South Medford sucked 42 seconds off the clock, following Hartzog’s hits before Christansen breathed down Bolston’s neck and gave the ball back to Beaverton.

“It was super frustrating,” said McConnell. “I thought we were able to score on the other end, but they took good care of the ball. We made some hustle plays that really brought up the tempo and got us hyped up. But, we weren’t able to get the ball to make it close enough.”

South Medford built a 29-20 halftime lead by doing what Sheldon, South Salem and so many Metro League opponents could not —make shots from deep. The Panthers shot 50 percent (5-10) from behind the three-point line in the first quarter. And, with an ailing Bolston struggling with a nasty stomach flu, Tago came out of the gate slinging threes from the outside, draining a trio of triples over the Beavers’ acclaimed 2-3 zone defense.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Beavers guard Alyssa Christiansen (13) brings the ball up court against South Medford Panthers in the second half of the 6A girls semifinals at Moda Center.

“That was a nine-point swing just by her,” Stoll said of Tago. “That hurt us a little bit. Getting out on her in the second half was better, we just couldn’t get things going our way.”

The Panther sophomore sank a pair of threes back-to-back with 2:40 left in the first to give South Medford a 10-8 lead. Bolston buried a three from the right wing and Keyari Sleezer hit what felt like a possible dagger from the top of the key to give South a nine-point hump at the half.

South’s attacking of the Beavers’ zone wasn’t anything extraordinary, but the Panthers moved the ball quickly and forced Hartzog and Allison Mueller to help on the wings rather than hassle the rock up-top.

Hartzog had 11points, five rebounds and five steals for the Beavers. Christansen tacked on 10 points while McConnell had seven points and four blocks despite battling foul trouble throughout the game.

In spite of losing to Westview in the third-fifth place game on Saturday, Beaverton has to be encouraged about its near future and 2014-15 prospects. Christansen gave the Beavers a big shot in the arm at the point both scoring and setting her teammates up for offensive chances. She and her sister Tayllor, who missed most of this season with a torn ACL will be back next season as juniors with two years of varsity ball under their belts.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Beavers power forward Dagny McConnell shoots over South Medford Panthers' guard Ashley Bolston in the second half of the 6A girls semifinals at Moda Center..

McConnell’s one of the best shot blockers at the state already and she’ll be back for her senior year. The 6-foot-2 post has an intriguing skill set in the pivot that complements her agility and ability to run the floor like a gazelle.

Stoll’s reputation as an outside shooter is well-versed, but the junior is strong on the glass and not afraid to give up her body to get to the free throw line.

Mueller was the definition of pestering this season, disrupting opponents’ offenses with her track star stamina and nose for the basketball. Mueller, Stoll, McConnell, and Christansen each were named all-Metro this season and each started more than 25 games.

Couple the returning core with the emergence of Miller-Moylan —who came on strong toward the end of the year as a talented two-way transition player —along with the sharpshooting Sydney Boechler and the Beavers could be stacked.

They’ll replace the invaluable Hartzog, who was an instigator on both ends of the floor for Beaverton, and Jackson who’s sweet feet and sick post moves will definitely be missed. Yet, with the amount of talent coming back, added with Westview losing Jaime Nared along with the confidence gained from pushing South Medford, the outright Metro League championship is well within reach.

“I feel like that was a state championship game today,” said McConnell. “It feels really good that we were able to stick with them in the end. We’re losing Danielle and Shaunta, who are big contributors, but I think next year we’ll have another chance.”