Rusty Rae/News-Register##
Willamina’s defense walls off Dayton’s freshman guard, Kya Lindell.
Rusty Rae/News-Register## Willamina’s defense walls off Dayton’s freshman guard, Kya Lindell.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##
Cam Eaglestaff (34) dominated the inside against the Pirates, dropping 18 points while vacuuming the boards for nearly every caroom. Also pictured for Willamina are Kena Rankine (11),Brooklyn Bailey (2), and Hallee Hughes (21). Battling Bailey for the rebound  Dayton is Subby Harvel (42).
Rusty Rae/News-Register## Cam Eaglestaff (34) dominated the inside against the Pirates, dropping 18 points while vacuuming the boards for nearly every caroom. Also pictured for Willamina are Kena Rankine (11),Brooklyn Bailey (2), and Hallee Hughes (21). Battling Bailey for the rebound Dayton is Subby Harvel (42).
By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Willamina girls remain undefeated, dismantle Dayton, 49-19

 

In the hoops parlance of “give me the rock,” on Wednesday Gracie France stocked a veritable quarry.

France, the senior point guard and defensive spear-point for the Willamina girls basketball team, took over the game with 13 steals -- 10 in the second half -- as the host Bulldogs forcefully remained unbeaten with a 49-19 home court defeat of Dayton. The 12-0 Bulldogs had not played a game since Dec. 20; the team is scheduled to visit Amity Jan. 7 for a 5:30 game and to host Carlton on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m.

France scored just two points on her single attempt but she does not view offense as a personal need. Cam Eaglestaff, aq 6-3 senior, ruled the paint with 18 points and routine rebounds, and junior Kena Rankin and senior Madi Diehl both chipped in 10 points, Bahley Scranton four and Hallee Hughes three.

“That’s my style. I look for other people to shoot. I know my job and I do it pretty well,” France said. The latest win “feels good, especially since all of us were nervous, first game back and to get back into the groove of things, it makes us feel excited to every step is another stepping stone and that’s what we’re going for.”

Zone pressure and open-court hustle, combined with superior rebounding and shooting, pushed Willamina to leads of 15-4 after the first quarter and 23-10 at the half as Eaglestaff and Diehl hit repeated shots on the block.

After the first quarter point, Dayton coach Matt West told his squad, “You played one quarter of scared basketball. You’re not shooting. Shoot the ball.” Dayton’s quarterly totals were four, six, two, and seven.

Junior Taylor Wilson led Dayton with 9, freshman Kya Lindell added six, all in the first half, and sophomore Renika Olivera and freshman Melissa Arroyo added a basket each.

West said after the game, “We were passing up shots and against a team like Willamina if you have an open shot you can’t pass it up, you end up getting a turnover, so we did come out scared but I thought we did better but in the second quarter, and we got good looks and it’s a matter of going back and continuing to work on things.”

West added, “We knew going in that Willamina was one of the top teams in the state, so we knew it was a good measuring stick of where we are.

“We’re a young team, and as much as we talked out ‘hey, you gotta relax, there’s nothing to lose,’ I think we came out tight,” West said. “It’s tough to lose by 30 but it’s good for them, you know, motivate them and it really highlights the things we need to improve on.” West said, “the number one thing right now is being in the right position defensively and blocking out. We’ll be all right.”

Lindell started the second with an immediate end-to-end drive for a contested layup but within seconds Rankin found Diehl underneath for a 17-6 Willamina lead. Wilson responded in the next moment with a jumper but Willamina harassed Dayton in the back court and having reaped steals or turnovers, worked the ball to the low post on most possessions. While the feeds were often either too high or mishandled -- a reflection of the team’s long holiday break from competition -- Eaglestaff tossed in put-backs to make it 23-10 at the half.

Dayton and Willamina traded turnovers to start the second half, but Dayton missed its first six shots and scored just once in the third quarter as France and others ramped up mid-court pressure, often with quick grabs in the passing lanes or deflections that led to run-outs, the Bulldogs totaling 14 points in the third. Overall, Willamina used its size to dominate inside.

Effort was strong from both squads, but on defense the Bulldogs consistently hustled and ball-hawked, winning most 50-50 balls and disrupting Lindell and Olivera with half-court traps. Willamina stole the ball in back-court twice in the first minute of the third quarter, though Wilson hit a jumper to make to 23-12, and Lindell tied up the ball in a half-court trap to win possession. Diehl and France added quick layups and Scranton got another steal, wheeled up the floor with two quick dribbles and lofted an on-point pass to Eaglestaff on the block: 29-12.

Willamina’s defense turned relentless.

“We see the ball, ever since the third grade, we see the ball -- we want it. That’s our mindset: they can’t score without the ball, and we can,” said France, who at one point in the third, lunged for a steal and literally took a forearm on the nose, clearly stunned for a moment but seconds later rushed to the corner to help execute a corner trap to create another turnover.

Two possessions later, France dove out of bounds after an open-court loose ball, deflecting it off an opponent to win the possession. Seconds later, Hughes stripped a Dayton ballhandler, then fed Diehl who missed but rebounded for a putback.

Willamina controlled the rest of the third, boosting the score to 37-12 before the final stanza.

And then it was France, stacking up rock after rock, either picking opponents’ pockets or leaping into passing lanes for repeated steals.

Late in the game France herself was trapped, Lindell stole the ball, France stole it back and bulleted a half-court pass to Eaglestaff under the basket.

“We haven’t played in a very long time because of the break,” France said. We’ve been working our butts off in practice knowing, yeah, we’re a top team and everyone is out to get us but we’re not going to let them, basically. That’s our whole fire inside us. They have to go out every single game like it’s the last.”

Willamina head coach Tom Anderson said, “We talked about it, and it’s almost like a new start for us. We have to focus on that. We can’t think about what we did before tonight. You’ve got to go one game at a time. Dayton is a good team, very athletic and quick, they will put up a ton of shots from the outside so our goal was to stay in front of them and make them shoot it over us. I felt we had the size advantage, and the strength advantage, and the second chance points we got a lot of were something we talked about. And the steals: it’s head’s up play by seniors, and being in the right position and anticipating, and wanting to play well, and they do.

“The team aspect is huge. I really feel like you can’t say, ‘we’re going to stop this person.’ We have seven girls who play a lot of minutes and all seven of them can put up points on a given night, and that balance issue is huge for other teams,” Anderson said.

Asked how the players are feeling after the long break, mentally, he said, “I think our kids, they love basketball and they love to compete and just being out there, they’re doing what they want to be doing. Last year it was tough, when it was short (season). I’m proud of them, we’re playing good teams, coming out and playing well, and that’s what we have to focus on.”

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