CORVALLIS — The toll for having talent so young and inconsistent is generally steeper this time of year than what Sutherlin girls basketball coach Josh Grotting had to pay Wednesday night.
For him, it was just the exhausted, crazed look on his face that had been steadily molded throughout the second-ranked Bulldogs’ OSAA 4A tournament quarterfinal game and was cemented on by the finish. But at least it wasn’t a loss.
“And thank God for our freshmen,” Grotting said.
Thanks to a career-best night from freshman Kayce Mock, Sutherlin (26-0) dodged a bullet in its 44-42 win against the Junction City Tigers (19-6) to advance to the semifinal round at Gill Coliseum for the fourth time in six years. Mock, a 6-foot post, shot 8-for-11 from the field to tally 23 points and added 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists.
Sophomore guard Miranda Mendenhall, Sutherlin’s leading scorer, was shut out until there were 1.2 seconds left in the game, when she drew a foul going up for the game-winner and instead made the go-ahead free throws.
The Bulldogs have a 6:30 date tonight with La Grande (21-5), which was a 49-47 winner against Banks.
Mendenhall’s struggles — which were egged on by foul trouble — and the fact that junior guard Kylee Carson was also shut out necessitated a little help. Mock gave a lot, even going outside to drill a pair of 3-pointers.
“We were having a hard time even getting her to shoot at the beginning of the year, so that’s a really nice change,” Grotting said.
“(Junction City) really overplayed our guards, which left our big kids open a little bit more. They came through.”
Grotting’s frustration, though, was especially abundant because the Bulldogs had already defeated the Tigers 41-13 in a nonleague game in Sutherlin on Dec. 18. Five minutes into Wednesday’s game, Sutherlin was already in a 14-2 hole and Mendenhall was on the bench for the half with two fouls.
Which is where Mock came in, along with fellow freshmen Cassidy Bell and Kazlyn Clarno off the bench. Together, the trio scored the Bulldogs’ first 21 points and got them back up 23-18 by halftime.
Bell finished with two 3-pointers and 10 points, and was Sutherlin’s only player besides Mock to make multiple baskets.
“Everyone kind of had a bad game, so someone had to step up I guess,” Kayce Mock said. “It was a good game to do it, and there’s something about us — when we get down, we always come back. We get mad.”
Mendenhall’s funk was prolonged as she was issued her third foul on the first possession of the third quarter and her fourth foul on the first possession of the fourth. Mock’s services remained essential.
She scored Sutherlin’s first seven points of the third, giving the Bulldogs a 30-21 lead when Carson found her off the drive for a 3 in the corner. The Tigers wouldn’t budge, though, ending the frame on an 11-2 run to knot the score.
Tied 34-all with 4 minutes, 26 seconds to play, Mock rebounded a miss and converted the bucket-and-1. But after her older sister, sophomore Ricki Mock, made a jumper to put the Bulldogs up 39-36, Sydney Bowers came down and nailed a 3-pointer to tie it again with 1:23 on the clock.
Grotting didn’t call a timeout on the other end, but got what he wanted anyway: the ball in Kayce Mock’s hands down low courtesy of Carson, and a short jumper for another lead with 48 seconds remaining.
After the teams traded free throws, Junction City got the ball trailing 42-40 with 15 seconds left. Elise Nord took the ball the length of the floor and drew a blocking foul, made both free throws and tied it yet again.
With 7.9 seconds left, it was Mendenhall’s turn to take it the length of the floor. She ran straight through a double-team at mid-court and threw up a runner that hit only the side of the backboard, but was fouled with 1.2 seconds on the clock. After swishing both free throws, Christina Puderbaugh’s last-second shot just inside the 3-point line missed for the Tigers, allowing the Bulldogs to finally escape.
Grotting joked that he was thinking “outside the box” by icing Mendenhall with two timeouts during her free throws to discuss strategy after the Bulldogs struggled all year at the line. It worked, kind of: He actually told her to miss the second attempt because Junction City was out of timeouts, and she tried but couldn’t.
“What a wonderful time that was, all the way around,” Grotting exasperatingly quipped.
The Tigers were the ones truly haunted at the free-throw line on this night, however, going 17-for-33 from the line compared to Sutherlin’s 10-for-12.
Ricki Mock contributed five points, four assists and four steals. Puderbaugh led the Tigers with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Clarno gave the whole gym a scare in the fourth quarter, as the game was delayed for 15 minutes with 5:49 left when she went down and hit her head hard on the floor. She laid still on her back until being carried off by a stretcher into an ambulance.
Grotting believed she probably pinched a nerve and was hopeful she’d be available for the remainder of the tournament. She was responsive, had no numbness and was moving all her extremities while on the floor, he said.
“I think she was more freaked out than anything,” Grotting said, “especially when they wanted to put her on the (stretcher).”
The angst was understandably palpable in the hallways after the game for several reasons. All Grotting could muster upon running into his star of the night was: “Holy Mock.”
JUNCTION CITY (42) — Christina Puderbaugh 3-7 8-14 14, Gambee 4-12 2-6 10, Nord 1-6 4-6 6, Bowers 1-3 2-2 5, Norris 2-2 0-0 4, Bolton 1-8 1-2 3, Day 0-0 0-1 0, Slaeker 0-1 0-0 0, Straube 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 12-39 17-33 42.
SUTHERLIN (44) — Kayce Mock 8-11 5-5 23, Bell 4-9 0-0 10, R. Mock 1-6 3-5 5, Clarno 1-2 0-0 2, Mendenhall 0-5 2-2 2. Hults 1-1 0-0 2, LeFevre 0-2 0-0 0, Merrifield 0-1 0-0 0, Carson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-39 10-12 44.
Junction City 16 2 14 10 — 42
Sutherlin 8 15 9 12 — 44
3-point goals — Junction City 1-6 (Bowers 1-1, Bolton 0-5), Sutherlin 4-13 (K. Mock 2-3, Bell 2-6, Mendenhall 0-2, Carson 0-2). Rebounds — Junction City 29 (Puderbaugh 7), Sutherlin 35 (K. Mock 10). Assists — Junction City 5 (Nord 3), Sutherlin 12 (R. Mock 4). Total fouls — Junction City 13, Sutherlin 23.