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It’s been a while since Philomath had seen any serious competition on the girls basketball court.

Entering Friday night’s Oregon West Conference opener against Stayton, the Warriors had defeated five straight opponents by an average margin of 21 points.

But the Eagles brought some of the top talent in the conference to the PHS gym and pushed Philomath into the second half. The Warriors pulled away through the second half of the third quarter and cemented the win with a solid fourth for a 40-30 victory.

Did the Warriors get off to a slow start and just fail to find a rhythm early? PHS senior Lauren Berklund believes the team just had to work a little harder against a tougher opponent.

“I think it was just facing a team that can actually play a little bit more basketball than what we’ve been playing in the past,” said Berklund, one of two players to hit double figures in scoring for the Warriors. “I think it just takes a little bit to get back into playing actual basketball.”

Stayton has proved so far this season that it can play “actual basketball” with a six-game winning streak and top-10 ranking heading into the Philomath contest.

“They’re physical and well-coached and play really tough defense,” first-year coach Ben Silva said. “I thought we started off a little slower than we’ve seen this season, but it’s a matter of going up against an opponent that was tough. I thought the girls responded really well and we executed the game plan; it just took us a little while to get settled down.”

Philomath held slim leads of 8-7 after the first and 18-15 at halftime in a tough defensive battle. Berklund scored three straight baskets in the first 3-1/2 minutes on a put-back, a third-chance shot and a short jumper for a 6-2 Warriors lead. Stayton scored five straight for a 7-6 lead but Philomath’s Mia Rust finished a fast break for two and an 8-7 advantage.

Although Stayton stayed close, the Warriors never trailed the rest of the night. Riley Weaver hit a key 3-pointer midway through the quarter for a 15-11 lead.

“When you’re going up against league opponents, we know each other so well,” Silva said. “They scouted us multiple times, they knew exactly what we were running. There are no surprises now; it’s about who can go out and execute better. I thought eventually we got around to doing that.

“Once we realized we weren’t going to necessarily get those easy buckets in transition, we did a good job of finding some ways to score in the half-court,” Silva added.

Philomath had just a 22-20 lead as the two teams closed in on the halfway point of the third quarter but the Warriors flipped a switch and began to pull away with an 8-0 run. Rust scored off an effective pass from Emma Pankalla, she followed with a couple of free throws and then Berklund scored inside following good ball movement and again about a minute later off an inbounds pass.

“They actually had a big post, which is something we haven’t seen this year,” Berklund said. “That was something that we had to work with and their guards were pretty quick, but we just ran and they got tired.”

Marri Martinez, a 6-foot senior, was a consistent presence for the Eagles all night and finished with a game-high 14 points.

“The Martinez kid’s tough; she’s one of the better players that we’ve played against,” Silva said. “She can finish, she’s physical inside — she can really play outside and inside.”

Philomath led by as many as 14 points in the final quarter, that advantage materializing on the first two baskets of the fourth with a Rivers Nuno jumper and a Sage Kramer fast-break basket off a pass from Pankalla.

“We were very tough on the defensive end — anytime you hold a team to 30 points,” Silva said. “We just continued with our defensive game plan. We made some adjustments on the offensive end to try to get some of our other players moving away from the hoop a little bit more.”

Berklund said the team just needed to stick to what it knows best.

“We just talked about really executing and keep running and we talked about how our defense was pretty solid and hadn’t had any letdowns,” Berklund said about the team’s conversation at halftime. “That’s something we had talked about in practice — making sure we stick together on defense and don’t let up.”

Rust had another double-digit scoring performance with 13 points on five field goals and 3 of 4 on free throws. Berklund ended up with 10 on field baskets.

The victory was big as the Warriors get into Oregon West play. In fact, the outcome of the game could go along way in determining the eventual conference champion.

“They’re a team that was on our radar,” Silva said. “They’re ranked in the top 10 as well and we definitely wanted to start the league season off on a high note and just keep working. But we have to go up there and play them the second time around.”

That game’s scheduled for late this month on Jan. 29. Berklund thinks the Warriors will have a much-better run through the conference this year.

“Last year at this time, it seems like we fell apart but I don’t think that’s going to happen this year,” she said. “We’re all pretty confident in us as a team and we work really well together.”

Philomath plays at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Sweet Home.

Philomath 40, Stayton 30

Friday at Philomath

STAYTON (8-4, 0-1)          7     8     7     8 — 30

PHILOMATH (11-2, 1-0)     8   10   14     8 — 40

Stayton: Marrl Martinez 6 2-6 14, Alyssa Smart 2 1-3 5, Alli Nyquist 2 0-0 5, KJ Nyquist 1 3-4 5, Holly McGill 0 1-2 1, Genevieve Frith 0 0-0 0, Tylee Bundy 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 7-15 30.

Philomath: Mia Rust 5 3-4 13, Lauren Berklund 5 0-0 10, Sage Kramer 3 0-0 6, Rivers Nuno 2 0-0 5, Riley Weaver 1 1-2 4, Emma Pankalla 1 0-2 2, Braedyn McNeely 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 4-8 40.

Junior Varsity

Philomath 40, Stayton 26

Friday at Philomath

STAYTON          8     2     7     9 — 26

PHILOMATH     10     9     9   12 — 40

PHS scoring: Reagan Larson 12, Phaedra Hinds-Cook 10, Kaili Saathoff 7, Lara Hunter 3, Kiya Smith 3, Alexis Van Vlack 2, Braedyn McNeely 2, Rivers Nuno 1, Kamden Combs 0, K Bacho 0.

Team notes: The JV team’s record goes to 9-1 on the season. … Philomath went on a 9-2 run in the second quarter and led 19-10 at halftime. … Philomath’s defense held Stayton to single digits in all four quarters. … Reagan Larson scored 12 points on five field goals, two of those 3-pointers. … Phaedra Hinds Cook scored 10, a performance that included 6 of 8 from the free-throw line in the fourth. … Philomath plays Tuesday at Sweet Home and Friday at home against Cascade.

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