SUTHERLIN — Twenty-five down, three to go.
The unbeaten Sutherlin girls basketball team is seeking its second Class 4A state title in six seasons. The Bulldogs open state tournament play with a quarterfinal game against Sky-Em League champion Junction City (19-5) at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
Sutherlin, under sixth-year coach Josh Grotting, is appearing in the eight-team tournament for the sixth time in seven years. The Bulldogs — who captured their first state crown in 2008 — advanced to the state championship game last year before losing to Henley of Klamath Falls, finishing 28-1.
“All of us have worked really hard and we’re exactly where we want to be,” said Cheyanne LeFevre, one of three seniors on the roster. “A lot of us are returning from last year and (the Henley loss) was huge motivation. We don’t want to stop short ... we’re not done yet. I think we’re prepared and we’ll give it everything we have.”
In other quarterfinals Wednesday, Mazama (24-2) meets Brookings (19-7) at 1:30 p.m., Cascade (19-5) faces La Salle (22-3) at 3:15 and La Grande (20-5) takes on Banks (21-3) at 6:30 p.m. Banks finished third in the tourney last season and Mazama was sixth, while Cascade won the 2011 state crown.
“There’s a lot of parity,” Grotting said of the field. “There are five or six of us that could go up there and win it all or go two-and-out. Mazama is the favorite and has played a tough schedule, and Cascade has everybody back from last year. Whichever team is able to play well for three games will come out on top.”
Sutherlin and Junction City, coached by Craig Lannom, met earlier this season in Sutherlin, with the Bulldogs taking a 41-13 victory on Dec. 18. The Tigers led 9-4 after one quarter, but Sutherlin outscored them 37-4 the remainder of the contest.
“That was a December game. There’s not one part of me that thinks it’ll be an easy game (this time),” Grotting said. “I know Craig Lannom has been there a long time and I look up to him. He’s a great coach and has a pretty experienced crew.”
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” added LeFevre. “They’ll be ready for us and we have to prepare ourselves as well as we can.”
The Tigers, who have won 13 straight, reached the final eight with a 46-29 win over Seaside Saturday at home to earn their first tournament berth since 2007.
Christina Puderbaugh, a 5-foot-9 senior, led Junction City with a career-high 21 points and eight rebounds and converted 11 of 13 free throws. Sydney Bowers, a 5-5 sophomore, had nine points while Elise Nord, a 5-7 senior, scored eight.
Junction City has six seniors on its roster. No player averages more than nine points a game and seven different players have led the team in scoring.
Junior wing Jamilla Gambee was a first-team all-league selection, Nord made the second team, and Puderbaugh and Bowers both received honorable mention.
Lannom, in his 24th year as the Tigers’ head coach, knows his team is the underdog against Sutherlin, which leads 4A in scoring defense (26.6).
“They’re awfully good ... I think they’re better than they were a year ago,” said Lannom, who coached the Glendale boys and girls teams in the late 1980s. “They’re probably the best defensive team in the state. They play well together, don’t lack for depth and have no weaknesses. We have to find a way to manage a little offense against them.”
The Bulldogs advanced to the tournament with a hard-earned 37-30 win over Central of Independence Saturday at home. Sutherlin has been pushed to the limit in its last two contests, rallying at Brookings for a 42-41 overtime victory on Feb. 15.
“I think those games will help us,” LeFevre said. “Being down at Brookings and having to come back. We need to experience all situations.”
Sutherlin is expected to start sophomore Miranda Mendenhall (16 points a game) at point guard, sophomore Ricki Mock (9 points, 8 rebounds) and junior Kylee Carson (8 points) at wings, and LeFevre (7 points) and freshman Kayce Mock (7 points) at posts. Freshman Kazlyn Clarno and senior Jennifer Hults are first off the bench.
Ricki Mock led the Bulldogs with 12 points and Carson had nine against Central Saturday.
The remainder of the roster includes senior Carmen Seehawer, sophomores Baylee Merrifield, Brittany Hanson and Gabby Cornelia, and freshmen Cassidy Bell, Samantha Tilley and Taylor Klein.
The Junction City-Sutherlin winner will play the La Grande-Banks winner at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals. The losers square off in an elimination game at 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
The championship game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday.
This marks the first time since 1991 that the Sutherlin boys and girls have advanced to the state tournament in the same year. The girls finished third and the boys fourth in their respective 3A tourneys.
“We’re all pretty excited both teams get to go,” LeFevre said. “It’s pretty cool.”
• You can reach Sports Editor Tom Eggers at 541-957-4220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org