By SCOTT SEPICH/for OSAAtoday
PENDLETON — When Enrique Sandoval took over as the head coach of the Gervais girls basketball team this season, his goal was to get his new team to buy into a tenacious defensive philosophy.
The Cougars players more than met his expectations, and Gervais is the girls state champion for the first time in 29 years.
Gervais (26-4) held Stanfield to four second-half points in a historic defensive effort, capturing the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 2A championship 37-21 at the Pendleton Convention Center.
The 21 points by Stanfield (27-2) was the lowest total in any Oregon girls championship game since 2012, when Springfield beat Willamette 16-7 in the 5A championship.
“Since day one at practice we’ve been doing defensive slides and rotations and closeouts and told them that if we want to be champions we have to defend,” said Sandoval, who previously spent 20 years as a boys coach, most recently at Woodburn. “Now they see the result of that, and I’m super proud of them.”
Ava Sellers and Sofia Contreras led a balanced scoring attack for Gervais with nine points each. Izzy Boyd had seven points and nine rebounds, and Olivia Boyd grabbed nine rebounds.
“It was such a team effort,” said Contreras. “We’ve worked and practiced for this moment. Defense is our motto and we believe that defense is our offense.”
Contreras said that adjusting to a new coach was difficult at first, but that she was “so happy that we got the chance to experience this with him.”
“He pushed us to be our best,” she added. “I wouldn’t ask for any other coach.”
Sellers hit two of her three 3-pointers in the third quarter as Gervais outscored Stanfield 11-2 to turn a 17-15 halftime deficit into a 26-19 lead. Another 11-2 quarter left the Cougars as state champions in emphatic fashion.
“Once Ava made a couple you could tell that our momentum changed and we were feeling more confident,” Sandoval noted.
Contreras then hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the fourth quarter to push the lead to double digits and the Cougars were well on their way to a title.
“I told the girls to value every possession and start to get aggressive offensively and attack,” said Sandoval of what led to Gervais outscoring Stanfield 22-4 in the second half.
Contreras said it didn’t even really set in that the game was about to end until Sandoval took her out of the game in the final minute.
“I was so focused on what was going on I didn’t even look up to see how much time was left,” Contreras said. “I looked up and realized that we had just won. It was amazing.”
Gervais held Monroe to 17 points in Friday’s semifinals and Western Christian to 28 in the quarterfinals. Both of those were also season-low offensive outputs for their opponents.
For Stanfield, which had won 23 straight since its only previous loss on Dec. 9, it was a tough end but by far the best performance in the program’s history. Last year’s sixth-place finish was the first-ever trophy for the Tigers.
“It was awesome to be here playing in this game,” said Stanfield coach Daniel Sharp. “Gervais is long and athletic and we had a hard time shooting and making baskets in the second half. We were a little bit off, but they’re a good team and that’s how it rolls.”
Stanfield made 2 of 21 shots in the second half and 7 of 39 (18%) for the game, including a 3-for-21 performance from 3-point range.
“I’m not sure if they were rattled a little bit or what, but our shots didn’t go down,” Sharp said. “We said we were going to go down swinging and I think we did. I’m glad we took the shots, but Gervais made it tough to get any movement, their zone was killer.”
Alexis Mallory hit two 3-pointers to lead the Tigers with six points. Adrienne Mallory scored five points and Maggie Sharp had four assists and two steals.