PHS sophomore Anneka Steen eyes the basket after coming away with a steal during Monday night's rout over St. Helens. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School girls basketball team buried the opponent early with a 19-0 run to open the game and went on to a 59-27 victory Monday night to advance to the Class 4A state playoffs. The Warriors will head to Eugene for a first-round game on Friday against Marist Catholic.

“This offense — when we’re playing with confidence, we’re pretty tough,” PHS head coach Ben Silva said following the 59-27 victory. “We shared the ball fantastically on transition and we got down the court and had a lot of energy to start the game.”

A week earlier, the Warriors struggled in a 25-point home loss in the regular-season finale. So the question heading into the game against the Lions was how would Philomath react?

“I think we were all pretty mad about how we performed in the last game, especially in front of that big home crowd we had,” PHS senior Hailie Couture said. “So we were determined the next day in practice and we just wanted to come out and win. I think we showed that by the way we played.”

Silva sensed that his team would be motivated and felt the players were ready to roll on Friday. But the state’s winter weather derailed those plans with the play-in game postponed until Monday.

PHS senior Hailie Couture goes to the hoop inside against the Lions. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“I don’t think anybody felt great about that last one … then we got delayed and it took forever to get back on the court,” Silva said. “But I’m glad we came out and showed up tonight with that type of performance. It definitely feels good to be able to bounce back like that.”

Philomath’s early run quickly knocked the wind out of the visiting St. Helens squad. The Warriors’ entire starting lineup scored during the 19-point outburst, including five from Couture and Taunisila and four from Steen. St. Helens stopped the bleeding with 57 seconds left in the quarter but the wound was reopened 30 seconds later when Couture buried her third basket of the evening.

“We were able to build off a lot of stops on the defensive end,” Silva said. “I think we only gave up two points in the first quarter and were able to score 21, which is a great quarter for us.”

St. Helens fared a bit better in the second quarter but the Warriors held a 39-11 lead at halftime. With 3:04 left in the first half, the Lions sank a 3-pointer to cut the Philomath lead to 17 but the Warriors had all of the answers. Steen scored in transition at the 2:22 mark on a play that started on the defensive end with a blocked shot by Brown.

It was the beginning of an 11-0 run to end the first half. Brown scored inside, Zoee Howard sank two free throws, Steen had a steal and a hoop and with 18 seconds left, Mia Bennett buried a 3-pointer.

Philomath’s Abigail Brown flips the ball up top to teammate Emily Taunisila. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The rest of the game played out as expected with the Warriors holding an insurmountable lead. Eight different PHS players scored in the second half and Silva gave his bench considerable playing time in the fourth quarter.

Steen and Brown shared team-high scoring honors with 11 apiece — each with five baskets and 1 of 2 on free throws. Couture had eight, Taunisila scored seven and Howard, Bennett and Tryon each added six in a true display of balanced scoring.

Devan Lee scored a game-high 12 points to lead St. Helens (7-18).

The Warriors (16-7) will now get another shot at Marist Catholic, an opponent that beat Philomath handily on Dec. 10 in its own tournament by a margin of 40-17. Interestingly, 10 days after beating the Warriors, Marist lost to St. Helens by 20 points, 51-31.

Sophomore Zoee Howard makes a move in the lane for a pass from junior Anika Tryon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Warriors enter the playoffs as the defending 4A champions.

“I think this gives us a lot of confidence that we can compete with anybody in our state,” Couture said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Philomath has a playoff record of 9-3 under Silva — which includes a first-round win in 2020 before the tournament was canceled and a 2-1 record in the unofficial “showcase” in 2021.

“We need to show up like we did tonight — whoever it is,” Silva said. “Everybody that we play will be tough.”

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.