The La Salle Prep girls basketball team needs to clear more room in the trophy case after taking third place at the 5A state championships.
Spurred on by 19 points from senior Ella Wedin, the seventh-seeded Falcons outlasted No. 5 Crater for a 55-50 victory in the third-place game at the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 5A Girls Basketball State Championship tournament on Friday, March 10, at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
The bronze trophy marks a return to statewide prominence for the La Salle Prep girls basketball program, which won three state titles under head coach Kelli Wedin between 2015 and 2019. The team lost its chance for a fourth in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 5A state tournament to be canceled prior to the semifinal round, for which the Falcons had qualified.
Then, with no official state tournament in 2021 and a first-round exit last year, La Salle finished the 2022-23 campaign back where it belonged: hoisting some hardware on Ralph Miller Court at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
“It means a lot to all of us,” Ella Wedin said of the return to Oregon State University campus after the powerhouse program missed out on trips the past two years — first because of COVID restrictions, then because of a first-round defeat in the 5A playoffs.
“Last year, we lost in the first round, so we didn’t make it here. Everyone was really upset about that loss, so we just really wanted to get back here so badly,” the senior added.
“It’s really exciting to bring back third. I think that’s better than anyone was expecting from us.”
Ella Wedin added seven rebounds, two steals and a block to go along with her team-high scoring effort, the sum of which earned her the ModaHealth Athlete of the Game award.
La Salle also had standout performances from sophomore Lindsey Kapanoske and senior Emma Buchanan, who finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Bergeson and Clara Hudson had six points apiece for La Salle to round out the Falcons’ scoring.
The Falcons looked as though they might coast to an easy win over the Comets after taking a 22-5 lead through the first eight minutes. However, Crater switched to a press for the remainder of the game and ended up forcing 26 La Salle turnovers.
“We started off super strong, and they came back fighting,” Buchanan said of the Comets’ comeback.
“It was cool to see us stick together and not let ourselves get down. I felt like we really played together tonight,” the senior added.
As for Coach Wedin, the La Salle skipper knew that Crater would not simply lie down following the Falcons’ fast start.
“We shot really well to start the game, so I knew we’d cool off a bit and we knew (the Comets) were never going to stop being relentless,” she said on Friday. “That was the message: ‘We can’t get comfortable.’
Though the Falcons never gave up their lead, Crater made things uncomfortable in the second half. A fast-break bucket from Sage Winslow brought the Comets’ deficit to just two points at 38-36 with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter — a score that would remain on the board until the period ended.
Buchanan hit two free throws to open the fourth quarter, but Crater responded with a 3-pointer to bring the game within a single point at 40-39. The Falcons hit back with their own retort, going on an 8-2 run over the next three and a half minutes to build what seemed like a comfortable lead going into the homestretch.
The Comets would not be deterred, however, and went on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 50-50 with just 1:19 to play thanks to Addison Vranes’ jumper. Things looked even more dire after a late turnover gave the ball back to Crater with under a minute to play.
Winslow missed a shot with 49 seconds left, and Ava Bergeson pulled down the last of her team-high eight rebounds for La Salle. Buchanan — the hero from La Salle’s quarterfinal upset over No. 2 Silverton — earned a trip to the free throw line with 16 seconds to play, and she coolly put away both shots to give the Falcons a 52-50 lead.
After another Winslow miss on the other end, Kapanoske grabbed the defensive rebound and hit her own pair of free throws to put the game out of reach with seven seconds remaining. Ella Wedin added one final point from the charity stripe for the 55-50 win.
“I thought we did such a nice job of weathering the storm,” La Salle head coach Kelli Wedin said of her team. “(Crater) made their run, and then we made a big play and got a big stop. I’m just so proud of our girls.”
La Salle senior Yendora Young echoed her coach’s sentiments, adding that the team’s unselfish play was one of the keys to victory.
“We stayed composed under pressure, and that’s what matters most. We just played as a team always. It was never just one person doing something; it was a team effort all around,” Young said.
La Salle was playing on extremely tired legs after running a six-player rotation for the three tough games at the 5A tournament. That fatigue nearly cost the Falcons their bronze medals after Crater staged a torrid comeback bid in the final minutes.
“They were mentally exhausted, you know? This was our third game in four days playing six kids,” Coach Wedin explained. “We told the kids, ‘We know we’re asking a lot of you guys, but you’ve got one more chance, one more game, one more minute. Just leave it all out there.’”
For the three seniors on this team — Ella Wedin, Emma Buchanan and Yendora Young — Friday’s win was the culmination of a long and winding path.
“They’ve been playing with us since they were in seventh and eighth grade, and their just such high-character kids on and off the court. They do whatever their teammates need them to do, and they’re great leaders,” Coach Wedin said of her seniors. “That’s what makes this team special: the leadership, the chemistry and the love they have for each other. They really enjoy each other.”
So much so, in fact, that the Falcons successfully lobbied their head coach for a later lights-out time at the team hotel so they could get a little extra bonding time before their final game together.
“I let them have a little bit later of a room check last night because they said, ‘We’re having an emotional, special moment together,’” Kelli Wedin recounted.
“That’s just how they are; they just want to be around each other. That shows on the court, I think.”
When these Falcons flocked together one last time in Corvallis, it certainly did show.