Seaside’s 2-6 league record may not look like it belongs in the Sweet 16, but that’s where the Gulls are headed, following a Class 4A girls basketball play-in game Friday night at Molalla.

The Gulls clinched their spot in the final 16 with a 41-31 win over Molalla, improving Seaside’s overall record to 14-13 and sending the Gulls on to the first round of the state playoffs.

Lilli Taylor scored 19 points for Seaside, which is one win away from returning to the state tournament for the first time in three years, when they took third in 2016-17.

The Gulls will open the state playoffs Saturday at Baker. The Bulldogs finished second in the final OSAA rankings — but they haven’t faced a team from the tough Cowapa League, which has four teams among the final 16.

“Well, we were able to sneak our way into the state tournament, and Marla (Olstedt, assistant coach) and I couldn’t be more proud to accompany this group,” said Seaside coach Mike Hawes, whose team won a first-round playoff game at Molalla in the 2016-17 season, 38-31.

If they win Saturday, the Gulls would face either Junction City or Stayton in a first-round game of the state tournament, March 7 at 8:15 p.m. at Forest Grove High School (the Seaside boys will likely play at 8:15 p.m. the same night, at Pacific University).

Molalla scored the first three points of the game, but Seaside’s Emy Kiser scored the next seven off a steal, an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer. And the Gulls never looked back.

Back-to-back scores from Morgan Blodgett and Lilli Taylor gave Seaside a 15-7 lead. Ruby Douglas hit a 3-pointer to counter a trey by the Indians, and Blodgett knocked down a triple as time expired in the second quarter to give the Gulls a commanding 23-12 halftime lead.

Seaside had to weather a brief third-quarter rally by the Indians, who closed to within 26-22, but the Gulls went to their go-to play — Taylor at the free throw line.

The freshman finished 11-for-12 at the line, including 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter alone. With limited defensive pressure from the Indians, the Gulls closed it out with easy scores by Taylor and Douglas in the final 1:20 to pull away.

Taylor had five rebounds and five assists in addition to her 19 points. Douglas added nine points, Blodgett had eight points and nine boards. Kiser finished with seven points, as only four Seaside players scored.

“The second half (the Indians) made a run and switched to man, and eventually we just turned it over to our freshman,” Hawes said. “We ask an awful lot from this youngster, but sometimes she just has to be the best player on the floor, and tonight she certainly was.”

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.

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