By Amanda Miles | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
It looked so easy most of the way for Clackamas.
The Cavaliers jumped out to a convincing 14-1 lead on Grant early during an afternoon contest at the MLK Invitational. And for a time, it looked like they might win by blowout. But the Generals had other plans, putting up a spirited battle in the fourth quarter.
The surge wasn’t quite enough in the end, though, and the Cavaliers held on for a 62-51 win at Lewis & Clark College to start a key week off right.
Clackamas coach Korey Landolt said her group’s relative lack of experience with pressure at this point in the season caused the Cavaliers some problems. Ultimately, though, they were able to regroup and close out the win.
“I thought that when it really came down to it, our kids hit some free throws, we had some pretty decent defensive stops, Olivia Morris hit kind of a sealer three in the corner there, so we didn’t panic too much,” Landolt said. “They got us revved up a little bit but they settled down into what we kind of know how to do and just trying to keep that clock ticking down was in our favor.”
With the 6-foot-2 Ciara James and 5-11 Kalani Hayes, the Cavaliers (12-1) had an advantage down low over the Generals – even with James dealing with some foul trouble – and they exploited it repeatedly, especially in the first half.
“We definitely saw we had a size advantage, so we used that the first half and were just really trying to attack the paint,” Hayes said.
Clackamas continued to add to its advantage over the game’s middle two quarters. Its largest lead came midway through the third quarter, at 45-21, when Alyson Miura hit back-to-back three-pointers and then James split two free throws.
But as it has done in previous outings this winter, Grant (9-5) came alive in the fourth quarter. The Generals entered the final period still well down at 49-32, but they opened the fourth on a 13-4 run to get within 53-45 with about four minutes to go. Daryn Hickok fueled the rally, scoring the final 11 points of that blitz with an array of jumpers, drives to the hoop and points from the line.
Hayes and Miura then combined for the next four points on free throws to push the Cavaliers’ lead back to 14, but Grant wasn’t quite ready to concede yet. Hickok converted another drive and Marin Leonard went coast-to-coast to trim the margin back to eight, at 57-49.
“I think we knew it, but we weren’t completely ready,” Hayes said of the Generals’ fourth-quarter tendencies. “We kind of relaxed because we were up by so much, and we can’t do that if we want to be a good team.”
Grant would get no closer, however, as Clackamas scored the next five points to put the game out of reach. Morris essentially wrapped up the contest when she drilled a three-pointer from the left corner with about 90 seconds remaining and Bri Phiakhamngon added two free throws before Schuyler Berry knocked down two free throws for the Generals.
For them, the result meant that a signature win remains just out of reach this season. Grant has pushed several of the state’s top teams to competitive losses, and if the Generals could string a couple of quarters together, they might find themselves on the winning end instead.
“We’re a really good second-half team. We pick up the intensity,” Leonard noted. “It’s not always a good thing, because we kind of do that out of the realization that we’re down, but we definitely come together as a team in that second half, especially the fourth quarter, and pick up the intensity, and I think we want it a lot more in that fourth quarter.”
Hayes scored 15 points in the first half and cruised to a game-high 24. In a display of well-rounded production, Miura added 10 points, followed by Phiakhamngon (eight), Hayes (seven), Morris (six) and Elly Bankofier (five).
Hickok had 20 points in the second half – including 13 in the final quarter – to put her tally at 22 overall. Leonard added 13 and Berry chipped in seven.
The win kicked off an important week for Clackamas, which has a quick turnaround with a game at Oregon City on Tuesday and then plays at traditional Mt. Hood Conference power Central Catholic on Friday. Both the Cavaliers and Pioneers take 3-0 Mt. Hood records into the contest, so the winner will seize the inside track on the league title.
The two teams have faced each other once already this season, with Clackamas picking up a 53-33 win at last month’s Nike Interstate Shootout. But that result is somewhat misleading, as Oregon City was missing about half of its roster due to multi-game suspensions for team rules violations. Those players are all back now, so this second contest should play out differently.
Hayes, for one, is looking forward to seeing the Pioneers at full strength.
“We definitely know it’s not going to be the same game as last time,” Hayes said. “They have six players back, so we’ve been preparing for weeks and we’re ready for whatever they give us.”