PORTLAND – The South Salem High School girls basketball team had been through worse than a double digit deficit Saturday.
Trailing Grant 29-8 in Saturday’s third place game of the OSAA Class 6A state tournament at the Chiles Center, the Saxons clawed their way back in a little at a time and when Evina Westbrook hit two free throws to give the Saxons their first lead with 6:23 left, there was no one doubted they would win.
South Salem capped off an emotional few days with a 58-53 win Saturday night to earn its fourth consecutive state tournament placing – the team was fourth in 2014 and state champions the past two years.
“This has been an incredible family,” South Salem coach Nick McWilliams said. “A lot of people talk about family on a team, but this has been the easiest group to work with, that I recall, in my years at South Salem. They soaked things in and were nice to each other and there weren’t jealousies and that kind of stuff.
“It was just a great group of kids to work with. I don’t think this is our most talented team, but I think this year’s group got as much as we could out of them. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
South Salem finishes the season 25-4.
But they could have lost a lot more Saturday than a basketball game.
After an emotional loss to Oregon City on Friday night in the state semifinals, the Saxons were emotionally spent until they went to lunch in Portland on Saturday.
When they came out of a restaurant near the Lloyd Center, they saw their team bus being burglarized. They surrounded the getaway car, and when the car accelerated it narrowly grazed star player Evina Westbrook.
“I was milliseconds away from getting ran over. It was close,” said Westbrook, who scored 28 points and had 11 rebounds Saturday. “If I wasn’t as quick as I am or had the reflexes that I did, I definitely would be in the hospital right now.
“There was no stopping him. God works in mysterious ways and we’re all okay, so that’s the most important part.”
That took its toll on the South Salem players.
Grant started the game fast with a 10-0 run, was up 24-8 after one quarter and Nina Radford’s 3-pointer gave the Generals a 29-8 lead early in the second quarter.
“I think maybe all of us emotionally were freaked out about what happened earlier,” said senior Dani Harley, who scored 16 points, including hitting four 3-pointers. “We kept trying and we didn’t want to go out with fifth place.”
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South Salem came back strong in the second quarter with an 8-0 run capped by a Dani Harley 3-pointer and cut Grant’s lead to 34-24 at halftime.
The Saxons went on several runs in the third quarter, and a 3-pointer by Harley cut South Salem’s deficit to Grant to 47-43 going to the final quarter.
Harley’s 3-pointer got South Salem close, and it took its first lead of the game at 50-49 on two free throws from Westbrook with 6:23 left.
From there, South Salem shot 7 of 15 from the free throw line to put the game away and end their season with a win.
“That was one of my goals, especially after talking to my team yesterday,” Westbrook said. “It’s just a game at the end of the day. No one died. So in my head, especially my senior year, my last high school game, wanted to go out with a W.
“If not, playing my hardest and playing my best. I’m lucky to get this and go out on a win, especially with this group of girls.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler