WINCHESTER — The top-ranked Umpqua Community College women’s basketball team overcame mental mistakes in a conference game against Linn-Benton Wednesday to clinch a berth in the Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament for a sixth consecutive season.

The Riverhawks appeared to be running away with another victory after taking a 15-point lead early in the third quarter, but had to hold off a determined second half rally by the Roadrunners for a 70-62 win.

“We let them back in,” Umpqua coach Dave Stricklin said. “It never felt like the game was in doubt. There was never any question who was going to win, it’s just you’re trying to get better.”

Umpqua (25-0, 12-0 South) started the third quarter on an 11-3 run and took a 49-34 lead on a Lainey Rincon 3-pointer with 7:08 left in the period. The stage seemed to be set for another typical lopsided win for the Riverhawks, but Linn-Benton (16-8, 5-6) responded with an 18-6 run to get within three.

Elizabeth Chavez was suffocating the UCC ball-handlers with a backcourt press and forced a turnover with about two minutes remaining in the third. She finished the play with a layup that cut the deficit to 55-52.

Linn-Benton kept the game within a couple of possessions throughout much of the fourth quarter, but the Riverhawks managed to outlast the Roadrunners and stretch their winning streak to 25 games.

“Winning feels good. So we want to keep winning,” Umpqua freshman Mariam Yaro said. “We want to make history and go undefeated for the whole season.”

Yaro started in place of Grace Campbell, who was out with a right knee injury. She made the most of her time on the court, finishing with 14 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. It was the first double-double of her season.

“I haven’t played 40 minutes since high school,” Yaro said. “I knew I had to step up, because Grace is, like I said, she’s one of the best players and I had to do what she does, like rebound, push, assist, get steals and I just had to make sure my team won in the end.”

Darian Mitchell led Umpqua with 18 points. She made three of the Riverhawks’ nine 3-pointers.

Amyr Lowe led Linn-Benton with 17 points. Chavez added 15 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and four steals.

UCC shot just 37.7% from the floor, well below their season average of nearly 50%. Stricklin says his team played into Linn-Benton’s gameplan.

“They (Linn-Benton) play a little bit slower and they’re bigger inside,” Stricklin explained. “They make it tough to score inside and they just grind it out. Every game they play is low-scoring.”

The Riverhawks will now prepare for a road game in Gresham against second-place Mt. Hood (17-7, 9-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday. UCC has a three-game lead over the Saints and a win for Umpqua would clinch a fourth consecutive South Region title.

LINN-BENTON (62) — Amyr Lowe 7-19 1-2 17, Huson 3-5 0-0 7, Chavez 6-17 1-1 15, Wagner 3-13 0-0 9, Killion 1-4 1-2 3, Myers 0-2 0-0 0, Dieu 0-1 0-0 0, Martinez 5-12 1-2 11, Hendricks 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-74 4-7 62.

UMPQUA (70) — Darian Mitchell 7-19 1-1 18, Rincon 2-4 0-0 5, Riggle 3-8 4-5 10, Gonzalez 4-10 0-0 11, Yaro 5-16 4-8 14, Boske 4-9 0-0 10, Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0, Simons 1-2 0-0 2, Van Hook 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-69 9-14 70.

Linn-Benton 18 13 21 10 — 62

Umpqua 25 13 22 10 — 70

3-Point Goals — LBCC 8-28 (Wagner 3-10, Chavez 2-8, Lowe 2-8, Huson 1-2), UCC 9-27 (Mitchell 3-9, Gonzalez 3-7, Boske 2-7, Rincon 1-1). Total Fouls — LBCC 14, UCC 10. Rebounds — LBCC 32 (Chavez, Martinez 7), UCC 45 (Yaro 16). Assists — LBCC 15 (Chavez 7), UCC 18 (Yaro 5). Turnovers — LBCC 17, UCC 17.

Joey Keeran is the sports director for KSKR The Score.

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