It doesn’t look like the Sutherlin girls basketball team has missed a beat from last year.
The Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 1 in the most recent Class 4A coaches’ poll, have won 22 straight games this season and are 8-0 in Far West League play. They can clinch their fifth outright league title in six years tonight with a win over Douglas (12-9, 6-2 FWL).
“I’m confident in the team ... it feels like we’re in the same position as last year,” said sophomore guard Miranda Mendenhall. “Our chemistry is really good and we work really well as a team. I feel we have the potential (to be state champions) if we want it.”
The 2011-12 Sutherlin squad, led by 4A Player of the Year Kelsey Hill and Lainey Corbett, won 28 consecutive games before losing 41-35 to Henley of Klamath Falls in the state final. Hill graduated and is now playing at Eastern Oregon University and Corbett moved to Pendleton, but the Bulldogs are a deeper squad this year.
“I think we’re quite a bit better,” said Sutherlin coach Josh Grotting, who guided the Bulldogs to the 2008 state championship. “Defensively, we’re heads and shoulders above last year. The girls are ultra competitive and we have competition at every spot, and the games are sometimes easier than practices.”
The Bulldogs own the top scoring defense in 4A, allowing just 25.4 points a game. They’re averaging 52.6 points and have three freshmen in their playing rotation.
“The freshmen have been great for the team,” Mendenhall said. “They’ve gotten a lot better and really help the guards.”
“The girls put a lot of pressure on themselves. They’re really motivated and really driven, and sometimes I need to break the ice with them a little bit,” Grotting said.
Sutherlin starts Mendenhall (5-foot-6) at the point, sophomore Ricki Mock (5-7) and junior Kylee Carson (5-6) at the wings and senior Cheyanne LeFevre (5-10) and freshman Kayce Mock (6-0) at the posts. Coming off the bench are seniors Jen Hults (5-6) and Carmen Seehawer (5-10), sophomore Baylee Merrifield (5-6) and freshmen Kazlyn Clarno (6-1) and Cassidy Bell (5-4).
Mendenhall is the team’s leading scorer at 17 points a game, while Mock averages right around 10 points and is the top rebounder.
“We’re a tough matchup for anybody when we show up and play well,” Grotting said.
The closest challenge Sutherlin received this year was a 50-46 win over 3A Scio at home on Dec. 4. The smallest margin of victory in league play was a 53-37 decision over Douglas in Winston on Jan. 18.
Mazama of Klamath Falls is No. 1 in the OSAA 4A power rankings, Sutherlin No. 2, La Salle No. 3, La Grande No. 4 and Cascade No. 5. The state playoffs begin on March 2 and the state tournament will be held March 6-8 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
ELKTON BOYS. A year after winning 23 games and finishing fourth at the Class 1A state tournament, the Elks claimed their second straight outright Skyline League championship. Coach Gary Trout’s club finished 10-2 in the Skyline and heads into postseason play at 17-7 overall.
The 2011-12 Elkton squad featured all-state wing Noah Miller and all-league point guard Tyler Trout, who both graduated. This year’s club is led by junior wing Colton Maxwell, senior guard Brandon Bowen and junior guard Tracey Doudna. Junior post John Evoniuk is the tallest player on the roster at 6-3.
The Skyline tournament is set Friday and Saturday at Umpqua Community College.
• You can reach Sports Editor Tom Eggers at 541-957-4220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org