Prep Girls Basketball: Oakers goofy but focused heading into quarterfinals of Class 2A state tournament

February 28, 2018 GMT

OAKLAND — Keeping it light, staying loose and having fun.

That’s how the Oakland girls basketball is preparing for the Class 2A State Tournament in Pendleton.

“They’re a free-spirited bunch,” Oakland coach Don Witten said. “Sometimes you see them dancing on the sidelines when we’re doing a drill, that’s kind of their identity. (...) The season is long, it’s a long grind and a long time to be together but if you can still say you’re having fun starting in March that says something about the kids.”

But the coach also has to reign in some of the giggling and goofiness that happens at practice, because the team is best when they’re focused, but goofy.

“We’ll do well and play like we’re capable off,” junior Hadley Brooksby said.

After the third-seeded Oakland team defeated No. 14 Enterprise, in round 1 of the state championships Friday the Oakers didn’t waste much time to learn everything they could about their next opponent, No. 6 St. Paul.

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“They look like they are fundamentally very strong, they pound the board real well,” coach Witten said. “We’ll have to be physical inside with them, because that’s the strength of their game.”

The Buckaroos’ offense is led by 5-10 sophomore Erin Counts, grand daughter of former NBA- and Oregon State-player Mel Counts, and their inside playmaker is 5-7 sophomore Isabelle Wyss. They’ll also have an outside playmaker in 5-7 senior Logan Robinson.

“We’ll have to play every square inch of the floor,” Don Witten said. Junior post Grace Witten added, “Like any team, they’re not to be taken lightly, but we’re a good team as well.”

The two teams will face each other at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Pendleton High School.

“The plan is to prepare for teams that we will be facing, but at the same time we want to stay with the stuff that we do,” coach Witten said. “I think that as long as we stay within ourselves and play our style and kids play as hard as they can we should be ok.”

Oakland has been focusing much of its season on defense first, which helped them in games when their shooting was off — such as the first round game against Enterprise.

“We were having an off-night shooting, but the defense carried us,” Don Witten said.

Even in the last days of practice the girls were focused on defense and improving their half court offense.

For Oakland’s seniors, Emily Nix and Liz Powell, it’s their first and last chance to shine on the state’s biggest court.

“Right now someone who is really stepped up her game is Emily Nix, she’s provided us a lot of great outside shooting. She hit some real clutch 3s and 2s,” Don Witten said. “and knocked down some big free throws in the last little bit.”

“This is my senior year and my last year, It’s good to see all the hard work pay off,” Nix added. “This year I’ve had more confidence on the court and coach always tells me to shoot and I’ve started shooting more and I read my teammates better.”

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The Oakers’ junior class includes starters Brooksby, Witten, Rachel Arts and Cassidy Jones.

“The juniors have developed physically and they’ve been fighting to get in for a while,” coach Witten said.

Brooksby leads the team in transition and is capable of getting points, and Grace Witten has potential to score and when she’s on she can light it up inside and outside. Jones’ style of play is similar to St. Paul’s Wyss.

“They’re about the same height and play a lot alike. They’re both really physical,” Don Witten said. “(Jones) plays bigger than her 5-6 size that she is and she’s just a tough, tough rebounder. She leads us in rebounding and we’d like to get more scoring from her.”

Arts is a player who contributes big points and can is a tough rebounder, the team will depend on her defense both outside and in the low post area.

“We have to keep it goofy, tense doesn’t work for us,” Arts said. “We’re trying to treat it like a normal game.”

Sophomores Andrea Bean, Gabby Parnell and senior Powell are expected to contribute off the bench.

“It’s the experience of coming close to being there,” Don Witten said. “It gave the kids a little resolve to take the extra step. I’d say they’re really a gritty and resilient bunch. We’re not big, we’re not tall, we’re fairly quick and the kids bought into this idea that if we want to win it’s going to be by playing good defense.”

After Oakland plays St. Paul, it’s possible the team will face No. 2 Monroe on Friday. Both teams are at the bottom of the bracket.

Monroe and Oakland have played one another three times this season, Monroe won two of those contests, but Oakland won the Mountain View Conference tournament title with a 47-41 victory on a neutral court. The other two contest were won by an average margin of five points.

Monroe will take on No. 7 Gold Beach at 8:15 p.m. Thursday.

“I’m actually excited that we may play them again,” Jones said. “They play well, they know us well, we know them well and they’ll definitely be a challenge.”

The other quarterfinal games are top-seeded Kennedy against No. 8 Heppner at 1:30 p.m. and No. 4 Grant Union vs. No. 5 Faith Bible at 3:15 p.m.

Consolation games will start at 9 a.m. Friday at the Pendleton Convention Center and semifinal games will commence at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the same location.

“We’ll go as far as we believe we can make it,” Jones said. “It’s gong to be a good weekend.”