PHS sophomore Aspen Russell guards Madras junior Rylan Davis in the fourth quarter on Friday night. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In the final minute of the third quarter on Friday night, Madras junior co-captain Rylan Davis came up with a steal and scored on the other end to give her team a 36-35 lead. The home-court Philomath squad hadn’t trailed in the contest since it was 3-2 early in the first quarter.

Moments later, sophomore Anneka Steen drove to the hoop to give the Warriors a 37-36 lead going into the fourth quarter. Davis, who finished with a team-high 15 points for the White Buffaloes, didn’t score a hoop the rest of the game, Philomath senior Abigail Brown and junior Ahnika Tryon took advantage of opportunities at the net and the Warriors pulled out a 53-42 victory.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Aspen Russell,” PHS coach Ben Silva said. “The girl she guarded had 12 in the first three quarters and she had three in the fourth quarter and they were all free throws — she had zero field goals.”

Russell, a 5-foot-6 sophomore who started this season on the junior varsity roster, has developed into a stalwart defensive specialist.

Said Silva, “She was relentless and that girl is an all-league caliber point guard and Aspen shut her down.”

Madras (7-6) managed to score just one field goal over the final eight minutes — the rest of its points coming from the foul line.

“I think we really tried to focus on the defensive end and try to get stops, fly around and be aggressive,” said Tryon, who had one of her top scoring games this season with 17 on seven field goals and 3 of 3 on free throws.

Philomath junior Ahnika Tryon drives toward the hoop during Friday’s win over Madras. Tryon had 17 points in the victory. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Beyond Russell’s defensive play, Brown and Tryon were hitting on all cylinders with seven points each in the fourth. Brown ended up with a game-high 18 points on seven field goals and 5 of 6 on free throws.

“We all got out in transition and our posts finished around the hoop pretty well,” Silva said. “Both Abigail and Tryon had a bunch of buckets in the fourth and that kinda carried us through.”

The White Buffaloes had played a brutal schedule so far this season and needed a boost with the trip to defending state champion Philomath.

“They’re a good team and they played a very hard preseason schedule,” Silva said. “They played most of the top-ranked teams in the state … they got third last year in the state tournament and returned everybody so I’m really pleased with the win.”

The Warriors have now won four of their last five games — the lone loss coming at Ketchikan, Alaska, on that team’s home court — to push the overall record to 7-5. Silva believes the team has moved forward with the Alaska experience factoring in.

“We have a mix of mostly seniors and then a bunch of younger kids — we have only one junior on the varsity team… so I feel like we’re starting to come together to make some better decisions on the court,” Silva said. “We made some young, poor decisions early on in the season that cost us for sure in different situations.”

PHS senior Abigail Brown hits inside for two of her 18 points. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Tryon had a similar take on the team’s cohesiveness following the long road trip.

“I think Alaska really helped with our team chemistry and going into future games,” she said. “But I really think that coming out with a lot of energy helps us.”

Tryon said it was nice to play on the home court — something that hadn’t happened since the season opener on Dec. 3.

“It’s been a while,” she said. “It was good to finally get out there.”

Philomath will now take a weeklong break from competition before hitting the road again on Jan. 20 for Newport to open Oregon West Conference play. The Cubs have an identical 7-5 record and on Friday defeated Estacada, 56-55, a team the Warriors beat three days earlier by 38 points.

“I feel like we’re starting to put things together,” Silva said. “It’s a big transition from last year and we talked to the girls about it this week and set some team goals.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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