FOREST GROVE — In the state tournament for the first time since 2014, the Philomath High girls basketball team soaked up valuable experience over a three-day stretch in Forest Grove.
The Warriors ended up with a fifth-place trophy after falling to Oregon West Conference rival Newport Saturday night, 52-40. But as first-year coach Ben Silva pointed out, the program's younger players that will be back next season will have a better idea of what's required to be a top-tier team on the statewide stage.
"I feel for our seniors," Silva said about a group that includes two starters in Lauren Berklund and Riley Weaver. "They've done an amazing job of building a foundation this year and that was our conversation in the locker room. They established something and we're going to be back over the next couple of seasons."
Philomath, which finishes at 23-5, came into the tournament with a realistic shot at winning a state title. But the state tournament environment can be an exhausting experience both physically and mentally.
"We talked before we came up here because I've experienced the tournament as an assistant with the boys' program," Silva said. "The amount of energy it takes — the emotions, the rollercoasters — I tried to describe that to them. But you can't describe it until you've experienced it."
Another mental challenge arrived in the form of Philomath's opponent in the trophy game for third place. The Warriors were going up against a well-known opponent in Newport, a program that despite losing to Philomath by scores of 44-37 and 72-53 during the regular season, finished very strong.
"I give them credit, they got hot at the right time," Silva said. "Their coach did a great job and they looked like a completely different team. They had some energy and some spirit and the shots fell for them and they didn't fall for us."
Philomath didn't play its usual game with Newport's defense slowing down the transition and holding the Warriors to 32.6-percent shooting. Plus, Philomath didn't get to the free-throw line much with just eight attempts.
"We came out a little flat and I don't know if it was emotional or physical," Silva said. "There were a lot of girls that if you look at their stat line, they played 31, 32 minutes the last two nights in a row."
In particular, the Warriors were coming off an emotionally and physically draining loss Friday night to Baker in the semifinals.
"We made a 13-point comeback in the last 3 or 4 minutes last night," Silva said. "I talked to them at that point in time and there was nothing left in their legs. But they gave it their all to get us back in that game. We definitely were physically tired."
Philomath led 7-4 early with freshman Sage Kramer burying a 3-pointer, Berklund scoring inside and junior Emma Pankalla hitting a jumper. By the end of the quarter, however, the Cubs had taken a 15-11 lead.
Then came the second quarter, a problematic 8 minutes for the Warriors in each of their state tournament games. Against Newport, Philomath wasn't able to score at all in the second and trailed 28-11 at halftime.
Newport went on a 17-0 run to take control as the Warriors went 9 minutes, 31 seconds of clock time without scoring. A Kramer second-chance hoop with 6:42 left in the third ended the drought.
"The last few nights have been a little rough on the shooting percentage," Silva said. "But give them credit; they played some tough defense."
Philomath made a couple of comeback attempts in the second half. After trailing by 21 less than a minute into the third, the Warriors got the deficit down to just 12 in less than 2 minutes with sophomore Mia Rust hitting for a couple of baskets and Pankalla burying a 3-pointer.
Newport persevered and maintained a comfortable advantage only to see Philomath get back to within nine with 5:56 remaining in the game. Junior Lara Hunter sparked the run with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 27 seconds of the third.
But the Cubs were able to fend off any further threats and ended up with the 12-point win.
Rust finished with a team-high 12 points and Kramer ended up with 10. Kramer had 11 rebounds with five of those on the offensive glass. Pankalla had six assists.
For Newport (19-9), senior Megan Wagner threw in 15 points and senior Halle Hargett added 11.
Newport 52, Philomath 40
Saturday at Forest Grove
NEWPORT (19-9) 15 13 11 13 — 52
PHILOMATH (23-5) 11 0 15 14 — 40
Newport: Megan Wagner 4 5-6 15, Halle Hargett 3 4-6 11, Madison Hargett 1 6-6 9, Kaitlyn Mitchell 2 2-2 7, Sonya Cutler 1 3-6 5, Grace Hargett 1 0-0 3, Hannah Trommlitz 1 0-0 2, Stella Barber 0 0-0 0, Michaela Wagner 0 0-0 0, Dakota Rundell 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 20-26 52.
Philomath: Mia Rust 5 2-4 12, Sage Kramer 3 3-4 10, Emma Pankalla 2 0-0 6, Lauren Berklund 3 0-0 6, Lara Hunter 2 0-0 6, Braedyn McNeely 0 0-0 0, Riley Weaver 0 0-0 0, Rivers Nuno 0 0-0 0, Amie Russell 0 0-0 0, Sydney Bradley 0 0-0 0, Olivia Jahn-McLaren 0 0-0 0, Sara Bradley 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 5-8 40.