PORTLAND -- It took just about all the veteran cool and combat-tested experience Tigard could muster, but the Tiger girls survived another trip into another basketball blast furnace Wednesday night.
This one was at St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland, where the feisty home team plays in what Tigard coach Steve Naylor calls “the toughest gym in the state.”
And the third-ranked Tigers got into another haymaker contest against the 10th-rated Blues, but put on a solid fourth-quarter burst to escape with a 68-59 win in a 6A Three Rivers League game.
It’s become a pleasant habit with this Tiger team this season. They’re 5-1 in hostile gyms; the only loss was a crazy one-pointer at Beaverton last month.
But it’s the venues that impress: Tigard has won at defending state champion Southridge, Mt. Hood Conference leader Central Catholic, current No. 7 West Linn and now St. Mary’s Academy.
That may be because the Tigers have a veteran lineup that starts three seniors and two experienced juniors. That may also be because they aren’t heavily dependent on one player, even if that one player is all-state senior Campbell Gray. Against St. Mary’s, Tigard put five players in double scoring figures.
Whatever it is, Naylor said, “Most gyms don’t bother us.”
It certainly didn’t bother Tigard in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s game: Four different players scored as the Tigers roared out to a 10-1 lead.
“Even with that,” Naylor said, “It didn’t feel right.”
The Blues hobbled into the game without one of its best players — defensive tiger (small t) Mya Brazile, who has a partial tear in the ACL in her right knee.
That meant that senior guard Julianna Galian took over at point guard, and the move set a tone for the Blues the rest of the night. She’s only about 5-2 (the Blues don’t list heights), but she plays as if a wildfire is chasing her all over the court.
And she led the Blues back into the game against the Tigers. St. Mary’s started the second quarter down 16-9, then Galian bookended a 20-13 second quarter with a floater in the key to start it and a steal and layup with two seconds to tie it at 29-29 at the half.
The third quarter was more of the same: The Tigers would make a run, then the Blues would run right back.
Through it all, the Tigers always found somebody who could score when they needed it. Often it was left-hander Delaney Leavitt, who hit four sweet three-pointers and led her team with 16 points. Sometimes it was little Kennedy Brown, who had a who hit two of her three three-balls in the third period.
But one of the critical additions was 6-foot-2 freshman backup center Sarah Lamet, who hit three critical jumpers in the key and a pair of free throws in the third period.
St. Mary’s, meanwhile, was getting key scoring from Marley Johnson, who hit three three-pointers from the dead corner and also finished with 16. Senior forward Jade Newton hit a three-pointer from the right side to give the Blues their only lead after the first point of the game. That bomb went off with 3:22 left in the third period and put SMA up 42-41.
Lamet got all six points of a 6-1 that put Tigard back in command — though not yet in control.
St. Mary’s suffered another disaster with 48.9 seconds left in the quarter when Gray crashed into Newton, who was going in for a layup. Newton hopped off the court in pain and reappeared after it was over with ice on her right knee.
The Blues never really recovered. Tigard opened the last period with a 10-3 run that finally gave the Tigers control of the circumstances. St. Mary’s got as close as 60-56, but could get no closer.
Brown and Gray both scored 13 points; Lamet finished with 12. Senior post Dani Lyons got eight fourth-quarter points and finished with 10.
Junior wing Anna Eddy added 14 for the Blues. Galian scored eight, but her energy and abandon inspired an ovation when she fouled out at the end — from the Tigard fans.
“We came out pretty strong,” said Gray. “Then it got kind of rough. We made some stupid mistakes. But (in the second half) we started running an offense.”
She said that the Blues didn’t arrive with anything the Tigers didn’t anticipate, even with the switch to Galian at the point.
“We expected them to be tough,” she said. “This is definitely a tough gym to play in. But in the fourth quarter, when other teams are getting tired, we’re still going.
“I think it’s because we’re mentally pretty tough.”
They had to be Wednesday night.
“We knew they were good,” Naylor said of the Blues. “Last year they came back on us from the high double-digits, so we knew what they could do. They’re not in the top 10 for nothing.”
Tigard rose to 12-2 and 3-0 in the Three Rivers to tie Oregon City for first place. The Blues fell to 9-3 for the season and 1-2 in the TRL standings. Both losses were to the league’s co-leaders.