As far as the Astoria girls basketball team is concerned, the postseason began Tuesday night at the Brick House.
That’s where the Lady Fishermen landed their biggest victory in recent memory — at least in the era of Mike Jacobson, Astoria’s fifth-year coach.
The Fishermen caught a whopper Tuesday night, but then nearly threw it back, as they gave up a late lead.
Banks rallied to tie the game, but Astoria’s Halle Helmersen came to the rescue for the Lady Fish, as the sophomore guard drained a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation for a thrilling 55-52 win over No. 2-ranked Banks, in a showdown for first place in the Cowapa League standings.
It was a 22-point turnaround from the last meeting (Jan. 18), when the Braves dominated Astoria, 51-32.
The two teams are now tied with 5-1 league records, with two games remaining in league play. Astoria climbs to No. 8 in the OSAA rankings, while the Braves drop to No. 3.
“Probably our biggest win,” Jacobson said, trying to think of any wins bigger than Tuesday’s. “Banks has won league five years in a row. But if we lose one of our last two games (at Tillamook, at Valley Catholic), then this one doesn’t mean anything. Those will be tough games, because those are tough places to play.”
Had Tuesday’s contest gone into overtime, “It would have been tough for us,” he said. “(The Braves) had the momentum. But shoot, the girls pulled it out. It was a big mental game. They finally got over that hurdle, getting that win.”
The victory wasn’t too surprising for the Fishermen, who came in to the game with a 7-1 record on their home floor this season.
Still, in the previous meeting at Banks, the Braves scored the first 21 points of the game.
In Tuesday’s rematch, the Fishermen led 16-4 in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Banks’ all-state senior Aspen Slifka had just seven points in the first half, while Helmersen and Hailey O’Brien were the only players to score for Astoria in the first two quarters, before a 3-pointer from Sophie Long in the final seconds of the half.
The Fishermen were scoring from inside and outside throughout the second half, highlighted by 3-pointers from Helmersen, O’Brien and Julia Norris, and drives to the hoop by O’Brien.
Meanwhile, Slifka and the Braves heated up. Slifka scored 19 of her game-high 26 points in the second half, but Astoria still held a 49-45 lead with 2:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Braves cut it to 50-49 on a layup by Katie Grossnickle with one minute left.
Helmersen made two free throws with 30 seconds remaining for a three-point lead, but Banks’ senior Gracie Nelson answered with a 3-pointer with just 12 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 52-52.
The Lady Fishermen worked the ball into their half of the court and called a time out with four seconds left.
After the inbounds pass, Helmersen got the ball, hesitated, then shot over a defender from just outside the 3-point line. The ball went in as time expired, setting off a major Brick House celebration.
“We had a play designed, but we didn’t get it in to where we needed it,” Jacobson said. “But Halle knew how much time was left, and she had an open shot. It worked out really well.”
He added, “Halle and Hailey (who combined for 40 points) played really well tonight. Halle’s money when she’s able to set and shoot like that.”
Despite the late-game heroics, the match turned into a free throw shooting contest down the stretch. And not a very good free throw shooting contest.
The Braves were just 11-of-25 from the stripe, and Astoria finished 12-of-25.
In addition to the combined 27 missed free throws, the two top 10 teams combined for 46 turnovers.
Still, “We took care of the ball, and for the most part, we played our game,” Jacobson said. “We wanted to keep the press on and make (the Braves) get out of their comfort zone, which I think we did. They got some easy buckets, but they had to work for ‘em.”
Slifka is “such a good ball player and does a lot of good things, but we made her work a lot harder on defense tonight,” he said. “That was one of the keys.
“We also played the majority of the second half with six kids. But they’re all in good shape. We had to be.”