Away from headines and rankings, a game rush is a win in itself
Dec. 19, 2014 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal
Christmas came early for the David Douglas and Sprague girls basketball teams Friday in the form of an collective adrenaline rush.
For programs rebuilding, retooling, just flat out surviving to an extent, a 35-33 game with all the trimmings of a last-second shot to win was a blessing. David Douglas led the entire game, but had just a one-point lead late before pulling out their second win of the season.
"It was a lot of fun to win a game like that," David Douglas junior Takayla Hadley said after her team improve to 2-4. "That kind of excitement is what the game is all about, and I love to be a part of that."
Sprague trailed by 12 in the first half, but scrapped together a consistent comeback that got within 33-32 before Scots senior Taliah Graham got a long pass and made an uncontested lay-up with 56 seconds left. Sprague got a free throw with 12 seconds remaining, and had the ball with four seconds left, but couldn't get off another shot.
The Olympians dropped to 1-5, but Friday's game was the first that hadn't been decided by 21 points or more. The team lost its first four games by an average of 50 points, then beat McKay on Tuesday by 21.
"It would have been nice to get a win, but I'm happy the girls got to play a game like that," Sprague's first-year coach Casey Williams said. "We haven't had that kind of experience this season.
"It was especially good for our team because of how we battled back. That's got to give the girls some confidence in themselves."
The excitement, in front of a receptive crowd of parents and the David Douglas cheerleaders, was great for both teams, who face differing challenges that both involve losing by significant margins. The Scots suited up just eight players, a fact that sparks the senses because the school has more than 2,500 students - the largest high school in the state. Sprague had a full bench, but played a consistent line-up of four freshmen and either a junior or senior.
David Douglas had actually played two other games decided by four points or less, but they were both against Jefferson, which won one of the games and has one other win - McKay. David Douglas coach Kristinya Birch was nothing but smiles after the game, not only for the outcome, but the outcome of last week's camp for younger players.
"We had 35 girls, which was a great showing," she said. "That's part of our working to build the program, which is what we need."
Both programs are hardcore into a building mode, something highlighted by Friday's game featuring, unofficially, at least 60 turnovers. Sprague went winless two seasons ago, and went winless in conference play last year. It's four starting freshmen, though, produced plenty of fight and showed off a level of skill that might make the other 11 freshmen in the program put in some of the extra work needed to be part of a winning program.
The Scots have 14 freshmen and another 11 sophomores in their program, which Birch is leading on an interim basis after coach Joanne Maki suffered a medical illness that required she step aside for the season. Birch, a teacher in the district for eight years, is committed to helping build the program with Maki, neither of whom is rushing players to the varsity level before they're ready. Birch said basically anyone who tried out found a spot.
Hadley, who has played since third grade, said she's optimistic about the team this season, but gets frustrated at times passing by classmates who were once teammates but simply bailed on the game.
"It's tough when I see girls I know can play, who could be helping us," she said. "But, you have to be committed at this level, and that's not something everyone can do."
Monday, the Scots play at Class 5A Woodburn, which is 3-4 and has scored no less than 33 points in all of its games. Regardless of the score, Birch will be happy to get another nightly-contested outcome.
"I know it's fun for the girls to play in games like this," she said. "It's not so good for my heart, but it's great to get the kinks out of your game before league play starts."