EUGENE -- No. 7 Sheldon moved one step closer to repeating as the 6A Southwest Conference girls basketball champion Friday night, defeating Grants Pass 58-36 on senior night.
Prior to the game, Sheldon honored six seniors in their final home game of the regular season: Kami Walk, Emma Neuman, Katelyn Foutz, Lauren Rygg, Leisa Washington and Natalie Bartram.
“Just proud to be associated with them, proud to get to work with them,” Irish coach Brian Brancato said of the senior class, which is 79-24 in their careers at Sheldon. “Every day I get to come to practice with those girls is a blessing.”
It may have been senior night, but it was Sheldon junior Harley Sowers who stole the spotlight. After each side grinded out the first quarter that ended with Sheldon leading 6-2, Sowers found her stroke from the outside and hit four three-pointers, then knocked in a free throw after being fouled on another attempt from the outside.
“She can do that,” Brancato said, laughing. “She doesn’t try to do too much. She just knows what her strengths are.”
The best part of these nights? Sowers’ teammates aren’t afraid to keep giving her the ball, Brancato said. And the second half was evidence of that, as the junior guard finished with a game-high 22 points on seven three-pointers.
The win is Sheldon’s (19-4, 8-0) eighth consecutive -- and second over Grants Pass -- since a 20-point road loss to the Lady Cavers (13-9, 4-4) in a non-league matchup Jan. 8. It means the Irish can clinch at least a share of the SWC crown Tuesday at South Eugene (10-13, 4-4).
Sheldon scored a season-low 37 points in that Jan. 8 loss. But for the second straight meeting – the Irish won at Grants Pass 47-32 on Jan. 25 – the Lady Cavers’ league-best scoring defense couldn’t replicate that performance.
Joining Sowers was the senior Walk, who after missing the beginning of the season while recovering from her third ACL tear, shined in her regular-season home finale with eight points, a number of rebounds and an impressive defensive showing. Despite struggling early in the season as she returned to game-shape, Walk and the Irish waited patiently for her breakout.
“I think everybody kind of expected it,” Brancato said. “Tonight was a good night for it to happen.”
With two games remaining, a top-three finish in the league and seventh straight trip to the state playoffs guaranteed along with it, the Irish can keep its focus on the SWC title. Sheldon sits just a game ahead of No. 6 South Medford (20-4, 7-1) with a road matchup scheduled for next Friday’s regular season finale. Sheldon defeated the Panthers 60-56 at home on Feb. 1.
In 2018, Sheldon shared the league title with North Medford after each side split the season series and finished tied atop the standings at 10-2. But in 2019, the Irish are looking to keep the crown for themselves.
“It would be great,” Sowers said. “I love this group of girls. We’re all so close. It would just be really great.”