WARRENTON - It was playoff basketball at its finest Wednesday night at Warrenton.
And even though his team had scored two lopsided victories over Clatskanie during the regular season, somehow Warrior coach John Mattila knew this one would be different.
"They're all tough this time of year," said Mattila, whose team posted a narrow 54-52 win over the Tigers, to clinch a state playoff berth.
"No. 1, they're prepared for you, and they've seen you twice. Even the second time through in league they're more prepared for you.
"By this time of the season, teams have their offense working better."
Ironically, the Warriors won Wednesday's playoff by not allowing a Clatskanie field goal over the final five minutes and 33 seconds, while Warrenton's Brooklyn Campbell scored a team-high 21 points, eight in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors move on to play at Portland Adventist at 7 tonight, with the winner advancing to play Rainier Saturday for the Lewis & Clark League's No. 1 seed to the state tournament.
The loser of today's game would end up with the No. 3 seed, although if Portland Adventist is not allowed to play in the state tournament (pending OSAA appeal), the loser could be bumped up to the No. 2 seed.
Clatskanie is still alive for a state playoff spot, since four teams out of the L&C will advance to state. The Tigers will play Oregon Episcopal Friday.
After decisive regular-season wins over Clatskanie (54-26 and 53-34), the Warriors may have been planning their trip to state a little prematurely.
"We had already beaten them before, and I think we kind of went in thinking 'We're going to win it,' and overestimated ourselves," said Warrenton's Jordane Marxer, who had six points, all in the second half.
Marxer had her usual all-around game, with seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.
Meanwhile, the Warriors were sparked by an early offensive show from guard Chelsea Smotherman.
The sophomore scored six points - all from the outside - in the first quarter, including a jump shot at the buzzer to end the period.
She had nine points in the first half and finished with 11, as did Lauren Dove, who added seven rebounds and three assists.
"Chelsea (Smotherman) had some really nice shots at the beginning of the half, and that really helped us," Marxer said.
A three-point play by Warrenton's Marylynne Ahrensbach with 1:19 left in the first half helped give the Warriors a 29-25 lead at the break.
The Tigers - who shot 11-of-22 from the field in the first half - continued their hot streak in the second, outscoring Warrenton 15-11 to force a 40-40 tie at the end of three quarters.
Clatskanie's Kaylee Taylor hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to close the third period, and teammate Kim Green scored on back-to-back buckets early in the fourth for a 44-42 Tiger lead.
But the Warriors charged right back, with consecutive hoops from Marxer, Campbell (3-pointer) and Dove for a 49-44 lead, and Warrenton would not trail again.
Maria Nolan (10-for-11 at the free throw line, 8-of-9 in the fourth quarter) kept the Tigers close with her foul shots, but Warrenton's award-winning free throw shooter - Campbell - hit three in a row in the final 1:02, and finished 6-of-7 at the line.
Campbell had been held out of practice all week, with a sore knee.
Chelsea Neahring led Warrenton with nine rebounds.
They may have to go through Portland and Burns to get there, but the Warriors are one step closer to a return trip to Salem.
"I really want to go to state, and play for first in league," Marxer said. "It was so amazing last year. We definitely want to go back. Just being older and having been there before should help us."