Philomath senior Hailie Couture brings the ball downcourt against Junction City on Saturday. The Warriors won easily, 50-18. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Heading into the season, Philomath High’s girls basketball team knows it will need to work the kinks out of a new offensive approach to scoring points. On defense, however, the Warriors seem to be in midseason form.

Philomath junior Ahnika Tryon goes up for two of her game-high 17 points. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Junction City, a team ranked No. 9 in the preseason coaches poll, could not do much against Philomath’s tenacious defense and fell into a deep hole by the end of the first half. At the final buzzer, the No. 3-ranked Warriors had themselves a 50-18 victory.

“Our motto this year is grind, so that’s definitely what we do on the defensive end — getting stops so we can go and score points,” PHS senior Hailie Couture said. “Just work hard, talk to each other and really bring lots of energy on the defensive end.”

Junction City managed to hit only seven field goals in the game — one of those a 3-pointer and four shots coming in the final seconds of a quarter.

“That’s going to be our goal all season,” Warriors coach Ben Silva said. “If we can play like that on the defensive end, we’re going to be tough.”

Last season, Philomath’s ride to the state title featured consistent performances on defense and Silva believes it can again be a strength.

“We’ve worked on communicating on the defensive end a lot more,” Silva said. “Offensively, there might be times when we’re going to struggle to score but we’re going to be able to hold teams down (defensively).”

Philomath never trailed in the contest although Junction City did tie the score on two occasions in the first three minutes. The Warriors took the lead for good at the midway point of the opening quarter when junior Ahnika Tryon scored following an offensive rebound. A little later, Couture buried a 3-pointer and Tryon scored a point from the free-throw line, a particular place on the floor where she would spend a lot of her time.

“Tryon had 17 mostly off the free-throw line, but she’s our best free-throw shooter,” Silva said. “She earned her way to the stripe with a lot of banging inside.”

Sophomore Ahnika Steen attempts an off-balance shot in the first half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Couture was another bright spot, especially in the first half when she scored all 13 of her points on the evening.

“She shot the ball really well — I don’t know if she missed a shot,” Silva said.

Couture’s performance was magnified by the fact that she’s been hampered by a shoulder injury that she suffered in Philomath’s girls soccer loss to eventual state champion Marist Catholic.

“It’s my first game coming back from an injury so I was just out there to have some fun,” said Couture, who has been seeing progress through work with a physical therapist.

“We really started off going back to the basics because we noticed last year, some of the issues we had as the season progressed were simple things like footwork,” Silva said. “So we’ve started focusing on that early on and it’s paying off.”

Philomath went on a 9-0 run over the first four minutes of the second quarter to take control of the contest at 19-6. Sophomore Aneeka Steen set the tone 90 seconds into the quarter when she scooped up a loose ball and drove hard to the hoop for two points.

PHS senior Mia Bennett looks for room in the paint. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In addition to Steen’s basket, the scoring run also included Couture hitting the second of her three 3-pointers, senior Ingrid Hellesto scoring on a putback and senior Abigail Brown contributing a hoop.

After the Tigers managed a free throw, Couture responded with another 3-pointer for a 22-7 lead. In the final minute, Tryon hit a pair of free throws and senior Mia Bennett scored following an offensive rebound.

In the third quarter, Philomath’s defense took center stage while shutting out the visitors over the first 7:59. Junction City’s Ashlynn Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer just moments after getting possession of the ball on a turnover.

PHS senior Abigail Brown finds an open path to the hoop in the second half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath continued to produce points in the fourth and ended up with a 32-point margin of victory. Sophomore Zoee Howard came off the bench to score on a fast-break with 6:32 left in the game. Brown scored inside, Tryon sank a couple of free throws and Steen buried a 3-pointer for a 43-14 lead.

Tryon then scored the next six points on a couple of baskets and free throws. Steen also added a free throw for the team’s 50th point.

“Going from that practice speed to game speed, we weren’t able to execute as well as we will be able to at some point in time … but we did a good job finding the person in transition,” Silva said. “We executed our offense better in the second half.”

Couture said Philomath will need everybody to contribute to reach the type of success experienced last season when the Warriors hoisted the state championship trophy above their heads.

“It can’t just be one person now,” Couture said. “We’ve got to work as a team and find the people that are open and run through our plays.”

Philomath (1-0) will next play on Tuesday at South Albany with the tip-off scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

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.