No. 1 St. Paul established itself as the frontrunner in 1A girls basketball Thursday by coming from behind in the fourth quarter to beat No. 2 Joseph 40-32 in a nonleague game at Dufur High School.
The Buckaroos (12-0) fell behind 9-2 and trailed the Eagles (10-2) throughout but finished the game on a 14-1 run. The neutral-site game had a playoff-type atmosphere.
“Both teams know they’ve got a shot to go really deep this year,” St. Paul coach Dave Matlock said. “It was great to see us come back because a lot of teams, with the pressure they put on, would have folded. But our girls were real resilient and never quit, ever.”
Joseph led 31-26 when St. Paul began its late surge. Buckaroos junior guard Erin Counts, who scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter, tied the game with a three-pointer. Senior forward Megan Tuck had a three-pointer and a rebound basket as St. Paul pulled ahead.
“We just had more gas in the tank at the end than they did,” Matlock said.
Junior post Isabelle Wyss finished with 14 points and Counts and Tuck had seven points each for St. Paul, which had won all of its previous games by at least 14 points.
“I was really, really pleased with the fourth quarter, but we’re going to have to get better in the first three to beat this team again, because they’re the real deal,” Matlock said. “It’s great to get a win against a real high quality team like that. It just builds more confidence in us, and it also shows where we’ve got to get better to continue on the road we’re on.”
Sophomore guard Sabrina Albee scored 14 points and senior forward Haley Miller had seven points for the Eagles, whose only previous loss this season came against 2A Grant Union.
“St Paul is very well coached and really hurt us rebounding and putting it back,” Joseph coach Lance Homan said. “I thought our kids competed and really made things difficult for St. Paul. They made big shots and free throws down the stretch and we didn’t finish. Hats off to St Paul. They got it done down the stretch.”
Matlock praised Joseph for its relentless pressure defense, which rattled his team early. The Eagles’ overall quickness smothered the Buckaroos.
“They’re just super, super quick,” Matlock said. “They read the passing lanes like no team we’ve played this year. …We missed a ton of easy shots early, which kind of amped up the pressure in our own brain. We got really tight for a long time and made a lot of turnovers that were uncharacteristic of us.”
The Buckaroos have four starters back from last year’s 2A semifinal team, including Wyss and Counts, who are averaging 18 and 15 points, respectively.
“The experience they got last year was huge in their belief that they can come back and beat anybody, no matter what the situation,” Matlock said. “Now they’ve been through a lot of wars. They really are hard to beat over 32 minutes.”