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Philomath High's girls were disappointed to end up fifth at the state basketball tournament tonight at Forest Grove. Despite the Warriors' rough finish in a 52-40 loss to Newport, the girls in my book will go down as one of the most notable stories of the year when it comes to our local sports teams. Philomath not only accomplished "worst-to-first" in the Oregon West over the past year, but proved that it belonged among the state's top teams.

The Oregon West's strength was on display as well with Newport, Philomath and Stayton all reaching the tournament. The Warriors' loss in the semifinals against Banks obviously took a lot out of the team. Banks had a 51-39 lead with 5:08 remaining but Philomath went to work. Lauren Berklund's layup followed by Emma Pankalla and Sydney Bradley free throws and a Mia Rust layup cut the deficit to five with 2:31 left.

After Banks hit a couple of foul shots to get its lead back up to seven, Braedyn McNeely and Pankalla both hit jumpers to make it 53-50 with 2:01 remaining. It was anybody's ballgame. Pankalla scored again and a Sage Kramer hoop with 1:32 left tied the score, 54-54. But from there, Banks was able to pull away with a layup and by hitting free throws.

A tough, tough loss that proved to be physically and emotionally draining. Tonight against Newport, Philomath just never found any rhythm and had to work for every point. Failing to score in the second quarter was too much to overcome. But give Newport credit; the Cubs looked like a different team late in the season. That team was third in the conference and then ended up third in the state.

Kramer, by the way, was named a first-team selection to the all-tournament team. Newport won the trophy for sportsmanship.

To me, Philomath's girls basketball program finally turned the corner. Over the past couple of years, I always thought the potential existed. Congratulations to the girls and the coaching staff for their accomplishments. The Warriors were a fun team to watch.

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