Philomath High girls basketball team
The Philomath High girls basketball team celebrates its state championship moments after the final buzzer. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

COOS BAY — The sound of the final buzzer echoing through Marshfield High’s gymnasium late Saturday night set off a crazy celebration. The players jumped for joy and fell into a heap near midcourt. The student section erupted and rushed the floor. Coaches and managers hugged one another. Parents and fans cheered and captured the moment on cell phones.

Philomath High’s girls basketball team had finally done it. The Class 4A state championship belonged to the Warriors.

“I’m just so happy for those girls, you know, I’m proud of them,” PHS coach Ben Silva, his voice cracking, said afterward. “They worked hard.”

Philomath led most of the way and held off Corbett all night in a 46-35 victory for the program’s fourth state title and first since 2000.

“We weren’t a state championship team in December — that’s the truth. We talked about it as a group and they know it as well, we weren’t,” Silva said. “Nobody is, I suppose, in December but they put the work in that it took to get here.”

Two years after the pain, PHS girls get the job done

COOS BAY — The state championship celebration that erupted on Saturday night with a 46-35 win over Corbett had been two years in the making. Exactly two years earlier, on March 12, 2020, Philomath High’s girls basketball team was preparing to open the 4A tournament at Forest Grove with a quarterfinal matchup against Cottage Grove.…

Philomath (22-4), the No. 1 seed and Oregon West Conference champions, rolled to double-digit wins over Henley, Mazama and Hidden Valley in the earlier rounds. The Warriors were favored all along to capture the top trophy. But then there was a Corbett (23-4), a bit of a mystery team as a No. 11 seed that just kept winning. The Cardinals had finished third in the Tri-Valley Conference and beat Sisters in a play-in game just to join the state playoff field.

When Corbett’s 5-foot-7 forward, Ella Holwege, launched a long 3-pointer in the opening seconds, you had to wonder for a moment if the Cardinals were going to end up as some sort of team of destiny to complete an improbable postseason run.

But as the first quarter’s minutes passed by, the better team appeared to be taking control. As it turned out, Philomath was the team of destiny.

Philomath senior Sage Kramer and Corbett senior Grace Merrill tip-off Saturday night’s 4A championship game. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“We had to come out with a lot of intensity and come out really strong and we did that,” said senior Sage Kramer, who scored 23 points and was a unanimous choice for the all-tournament team. “We crashed the boards, we got 50-50 balls and did a really good job of finding each other and being smart and strong.”

Philomath found great success inside in the opening quarter with junior Abigail Brown. A couple of minutes in when Kramer missed on a 3-point attempt, Brown was in position for the rebound and put-back for a 4-3 lead. Brown scored back-to-back hoops around the midway point of the quarter — the first on a pass from Kramer, the second coming from senior K Bacho.

But it didn’t stop there. With 3:20 left in the quarter, Brown scored after another offensive rebound and with 1:05 remaining, she found the hoop yet again with an assist to junior Hailie Couture.

That’s 10 points alone in the first quarter for Philomath’s 6-foot-3 post.

“I just had amazing passes — like from Sage and Hailie. … Once they drive and dish to me, it was just perfect,” Brown said. “They (Corbett) can’t pick who to guard so it worked out just so well.”

Brown had an exceptional three games in Coos Bay and was named by coaches to the all-tournament second team.

PHS senior K Bacho brings the ball downcourt. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“We got it inside to ’Gail and she’s just been so good all tournament,” Couture said. “I have a lot of trust in her, we’re really tight, and so just to get those passes in to her, I know she’s always going to finish.”

While Brown was converting on those scoring opportunities, Kramer had to exit in the first quarter with two fouls. She was whistled for a charge while driving to the hoop a little more than a minute into the game and then picked up a second foul with 1:54 left in the quarter.

“I was frustrated knowing that this is my last high school game and having to go sit right away in the championship game not knowing quite like where we were at,” Kramer said about going to the bench. “I was really nervous and frustrated but it worked out.”

And it did work out. While Kramer was out over a stretch of 6 minutes of clock time, the Warriors didn’t miss a beat and outscored Corbett, 7-0, to build a 20-6 advantage.

PHS junior Hailie Couture gives the basket a look. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“It was a sloppy game and I barely remember most of it but we were able to get the ball inside early on and that was a big thing,” Silva said. “We knew we had the advantage there and it was just being able to handle the ball pressure outside.”

The inside game didn’t dominate quite as much as it had in the first quarter, but there were still moments down the stretch — Brown to Hellesto for the finish being one in the second half.

“That was our goal — getting the ball inside,” Silva said. “It became harder to do with all of their ball pressure. We knew they wanted to turn it into that scrappy, up-tempo game. We hoped to control the tempo a little bit better but it worked out in the end.”

Philomath’s defense was intense with only nine points allowed through the first 14 minutes of game time. The Warriors had a 24-9 lead at one point and appeared to be in control but Corbett put together an 8-0 run to end the first half to cut Philomath’s lead to single digits.

“I was like, ‘we can’t let up, you know, we can’t get complacent,” Brown said when asked about the mood at halftime. “We knew we needed to come out and jump on them in the second half.”

PHS junior Ingrid Hellesto focuses on the basket. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Couture said that at halftime, Silva told players to just play their game and added, “It will happen if it’s meant to happen.”

In the third quarter, Corbett stuck with Philomath and cut its deficit to six at the 2:53 mark. The Warriors led 35-28 going into the fourth quarter. The offense had become one-dimensional, however, with Kramer scoring all 11 of Philomath’s points in the third.

Over the final 8 minutes, the Warriors continued with their unforgiving defense and a few other PHS players got in on the scoring. Hellesto had the previously mentioned hoop on the assist from Brown to open the fourth, Kramer continued to pile up more points and the Warriors hit enough free throws down the stretch.

Corbett didn’t get any closer than seven with 1:56 left in the game and the rest of the points came at the free-throw line with Larson and Couture.

The Cardinals managed to shoot just 19% from the field against Philomath’s defense.

“I can’t say enough about Reagan Larson,” Silva said. “I mean, Sage Kramer is a fantastic player, puts us on her back and carries us, but Reagan does the same on the defensive end and she doesn’t get that recognition a lot. She could not score a point and impact the game completely — and she does that every single night.”

PHS senior Reagan Larson looks to pass during Saturday’s win over Corbett. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Silva said Larson simply shut down Corbett’s top scorer.

“She has to guard the best player every single night and that’s a tough ask,” Silva said. “She did a good job on the (Alyssa) Schimel girl … she was averaging 22 in the tournament and had six tonight. That’s all Reagan Larson and the team’s defensive effort.”

Silva said Hellesto and Bacho were causing problems for Corbett up top but even when the Cardinals did get the ball into the paint, players like Brown or Cassidy Lewis would be there to challenge shots with occasional blocks.

Philomath’s offense cooled off in the second half and ended up with a final shooting percentage of 38.5%.

Individually, Kramer’s 23 came on 8-of-20 shooting, which included 1 of 6 from three-point range. Kramer sank 6 of 7 from the foul line. Brown finished with 11 points. On the boards, Kramer and Larson had 12 and 11, respectively. Brown blocked five shots and Kramer was credited with four steals.

Holwege had 13 for the Cardinals.

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.