PHS senior Hailie Couture hit four 3-pointers in Saturday's fourth-place trophy game victory over Henley. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High girls basketball team finished the season on a high note Saturday at the Class 4A state tournament by defeating Henley, 54-50, to earn the fourth-place trophy.

Playing at Forest Grove High School in a game that started at 8 a.m., the Warriors led by as many as 10 points in the first half, hit a wall and lost the lead and then responded down the stretch to pull out the victory.

“We all realized that we want to go out with a win,” said PHS senior Hailie Couture, who hit four 3-pointers in her final high school game. “I think there was a little bit more energy and grit as a team. That was close, though, so it made me a little nervous.”

Sophomore Zoee Howard, who came off the bench to score nine points, said the players were able to avoid getting down on themselves when their backs were against the wall.

“You have to push through adversity,” Howard said. “We were down but we came back together as a team and finished it.”

Finishing games had been a challenge for Philomath at times this season. Coach Ben Silva was happy to see how his players picked themselves up when Henley made its run.

“Early on (this season), we struggled to finish in those games … I think that shows our growth,” Silva said. “I’m just really proud of the girls being able to grind out a win in that fashion.”

PHS freshman Emily Taunisila drives the lane. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Senior Abigail Brown had a major presence inside, especially as the team built an early lead, and finished with 17 points. Brown averaged a team best 12.7 points per game in the tournament.

“We had an interesting group this year with five seniors who had a lot of experience and the state championship under their belt and then a bunch of underclassmen,” Silva said. “It took a little while for us to gel just because there’s that big age gap, I think, but they did a fantastic job coming together at the end. Fourth place is a fantastic job.”

Besides Brown and Couture, other seniors appearing for the last time were Ingrid Hellesto, Mia Bennett and Ally Todd.

Philomath (19-8) turned a 5-4 edge early in the first quarter into a 21-11 lead 3 minutes into the second. Sophomore Anneka Steen scored on a layup for the team’s first points and Couture followed with her first 3-pointer but Brown was especially potent during the early success. Brown scored four straight baskets to give the Warriors a 13-8 lead by the end of the first quarter.

In the second, Brown got to the line and hit two foul shots, sophomore Aspen Russell found the net with an assist to freshman Emily Taunisila and Howard drove the lane for another two as Philomath went up 19-10.

Henley stopped the run with a free throw but Philomath then went up by double digits at 21-11 when Howard scored inside.

“We were able to knock down some shots and then get some stops on the defensive end,” Silva said.

Sophomore Anneka Steen scores Philomath’s first points against Henley. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Hornets (18-10) did not roll over at that point and instead rallied to end up with a 24-23 lead at halftime. Henley finished the half on a 13-2 run.

“There are some people that kinda got in their head,” Couture said. “The seniors and people in the gym, we tried to get the energy back up. I think we came out of halftime with more energy and were ready to go.”

Howard said players took the halftime conversation to heart. 

“It was definitely people not getting over screens that put us down, so it was like, ‘we need someone to step up,’” Howard said about the conversation at the break. “This was not how we wanted our seniors to go out and so somebody just had to take that role and step up.”

Henley hit a 3-pointer in the first minute of the third quarter and led by as many as eight at the 5:21 mark. Philomath whittled the deficit down to four by the end of the quarter. Couture and Taunisila both hit 3-pointers during that stretch with other points coming from Brown and junior Ahnika Tryon.

In the fourth, Howard had key points early and then Couture set the tone with a 3-pointer with 6:15 remaining. Philomath had regained the lead at 42-41.

“Hailie had a number of big shots over the weekend,” Silva said. “It was a big shot and gave us some momentum.”

The two teams kept batting and Philomath took a 45-42 lead with 4:13 left on another Couture 3-pointer. Brown scored off an in-bounds pass for a 47-44 lead at the 3:40 mark. But the Hornets would not fold and tied the contest at 50-50 on a Lily Fussell 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes remaining.

“We were able to keep our composure and make some shots and get them to miss enough shots,” Silva said. “We did a better job rebounding in the second half … In the first half, we gave up probably 10 second-chance points. But they’re a scrappy, hard-fighting team.”

Senior Abigail Brown endures a hard foul late in the fourth and then went to the foul line and hit a free throw to give Philomath a four-point lead with 9 seconds remaining. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The rest of the game’s points were scored at the free-throw line. Brown put the Warriors up by four points with 9 seconds left when she was able to convert on 1 of 2 free throws. Brown had secured a key rebound on the other end when she was fouled.

“It was pretty physical but we’re used to it,” Howard said. “A shout-out to our scout team — they really push us hard in practice.”

Brown had 13 rebounds for the game. Couture and Tryon each had seven boards. Taunisila contributed on offense with nine assists.

For Henley, sophomore Anna Harper scored 21 points and junior Annie Campos finished with 11.

“Obviously, we wanted a higher place but we weren’t expected to do very well,” Couture said about Philomath’s showing in the tournament. “To go out with a win is a great way for us seniors to go and it was just exciting to prove some people wrong.”

Philomath High’s girls basketball team poses with the state tournament’s fourth-place trophy. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)
Brad Fuqua

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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