WARRENTON — Goal No. 1 was to make the state playoffs. Goal No. 2 was a state tournament appearance, the school’s first since 2010.
Now that the Warrenton girls basketball team has accomplished the first two, it’s on to Goal No. 3: To win a state championship. After all, there’s no reason it can’t be the Warriors.
Following a 60-52 win Saturday night over the Amity Warriors, the Warrenton Warriors have wins over the No. 2, 8 and 9 teams in the state. Now they’re in the final eight themselves — and looking like Final Four material.
(Bonus points — it’s also the first 20-win season since 2009-10 for Warrenton, now 20-7).
“We’ve worked hard every single practice for this moment,” said Warrenton senior Fernanda Alvarez, who scored a game-high 28 points in Saturday’s win. “I was excited to play this game. I was really focused on getting this (win). I didn’t want the season to be over.”
Warrenton will open the state tournament Thursday at Marshfield High School, tipoff 8:15 p.m. against Salem Academy, one of the ranked teams the Warriors knocked off (even without Alvarez) during the regular season. The winner of Thursday’s game will meet Blanchet Catholic or Vale in the Final Four.
“We haven’t had a state playoff win since I’ve been here, in any sport,” said Warrenton coach Robert Hoepfl, in his fourth year. “It’s so great for the kids. We had great minutes from everybody, and we get to keep playing.
“We get another shot at SA (Salem Academy), then who knows what could happen,” said Hoepfl (pronounced “hopeful”). “Three wins, and that’s the goal. All those teams area really good, and we’ll have to play really well to beat them. At least we get a chance.”
A win would be Warrenton’s first in a state tournament game since beating Valley Catholic in 2009 at Willamette University.
Meanwhile, Amity’s only lead Saturday was 3-2. A short jumper by Claire Bussert gave Warrenton a 4-3 lead, and the home team never trailed again.
Warrenton (and specifically Alvarez) dominated the first half, gathering in offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers at will. Or, has Hoepfl calls it, “frantic trapping. That’s just how we play.”
Baskets by Alvarez and Avyree Miethe to close the second quarter gave Warrenton a commanding 26-15 lead.
While Alvarez and her teammates were scoring inside, both teams were struggling from the 3-point line, finishing a combined 2-for-21 in the first half.
Warrenton was an eventual 1-for-16 from the arc, before Kenzie Ramsey found her range and made three long-range 3-point bombs for Warrenton’s biggest lead at 41-27.
Still, Amity won the 3-point shooting contest, making seven triples in the second half, four by senior Keeley Graham that helped Amity close to within 56-52 with 20 seconds left.
“They’re super well-coached,” Hoepfl said. “Reg (McShane) does an incredible job with their kids. This is the third time we’ve played them in the last two years, and they beat us the other two. You have to give their kids credit. They hit a bunch of shots down the stretch.”
But Amity was called for an intentional foul in the final seconds, and Alvarez made four straight free throws to close the game.
Ramsey added 14 points (11 in the second half) for Warrenton.
It was a balanced scoring effort from Alvarez, who had six points in the first quarter, seven in the second, six in the third and nine in the fourth.
“I thought Fernanda played her best game ever,” Hoepfl said. “She was dominant, really incredible on both ends, stayed out of foul trouble and made huge shots down the stretch.
“Claire and Kenzie have kind of carried us all year, and they were both great tonight. Kenzie made some huge threes when we needed them.”
He added, “It’s about this group of seniors. We have five kids who, when they came into the program, we were 2-22. It’s been a steady climb ever since, with their eyes on this. To be able to reach the goal that we set at the beginning of the year, it’s incredible.”
Said Alvarez, “We just want to get better from here. We gotta keep going so we can win.”