Willamette takes the rematch and the 5A title from Springfield
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Willamette's Lexi Bando scored 23 points and the Wolverines brought a shocking end to the Mercedes Russell-era with a 48-41 upset of top-ranked Springfield in the Class 5A girls basketball championship game at Matthew Knight Arena on Saturday.
Autumn Baumgartner also had 12 points for Willamette (23-4), which lost to the Millers (24-4) in the 2012 title game.
Russell, Springfield's McDonald's All-American senior center, was held to 12 points and six rebounds in the final game of a standout prep career that included two state championships.
"Mercedes is just a stud," said Willamette coach Paul Brothers, whose teams went 2-7 against their Midwestern League rival during Russell's reign. "I'm really happy she's graduating. I wish her the absolute best. It was a pleasure to be around a kid like that for four years. They were hard on us, but I love kids that compete like that."
It would hard to imagine a better start for Willamette on Saturday.
After falling behind 3-0 on a 3-pointer by Ashley Richey in the opening minute, Bando answered with back-to-back 3s from the corner on consecutive possessions and the Wolverines led the rest of the half.
Baumgartner and Bando added two more 3-pointers in the final two minutes and Willamette led 12-7 after one quarter.
Bando opened the second quarter with her fourth 3-pointer of the game and Baumgartner followed with a runner from the baseline as the Wolverines extended their lead to 17-10.
"In the past games against them I haven't been on, but tonight I came out and hit a bunch of threes and was like 'All right, this is our game,'" Bando said.
Springfield answered with five-straight points to cut its deficit to 17-15 with under four minutes to play in the half, but Kalani Kast ended the Millers' run with Willamette's sixth 3-pointer of the half and the Wolverines went into the break on a 7-2 run to lead 24-17.
After the last of his players had sprinted off the court, Brothers pumped his fist as he headed to the locker room for halftime.
"They did exactly what we asked them to do. Exactly," Brothers said. "So I was pretty excited about that. . We wanted to get the touches in the paint and kick it out for three, and we did a pretty god job of it."
Russell, who had 61 points combined in Springfield's first two tournament games, had just four points in the first half and took only four shots.
She finished 6-for-9 from the field but never made it to the free-throw line.
"I thought in the first half we were settling for jumpers and we weren't attacking," Springfield coach Bill Wagner said. "At halftime we talked about how we got to attack, we got to attack. Whenever we did attack I thought we got good shots, we just didn't do it enough."
Bando injured her tailbone in Friday's semifinal game against Corvallis but it didn't seem to affect her shooting on Saturday. The junior guard was 7-for-15 from the field, 5-for-7 on 3s and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
"She has a huge heart," Brothers said. "I knew she'd play and I knew she'd play well."
Willamette led 37-28 with under 5 minutes to play when Springfield went on an 11-2 run ending with a layup by Russell that made it 39-37 with 2:07 left.
But Baumgartner was left alone in the corner on Willamette's next possession and she drained the open three-pointer for 42-37 advantage and the Wolverines scored their final six points from the free-throw line.