CENTRAL POINT — It took Crater half the game to find its rhythm, but when it did, the Comets were a force, forging their way back to the Class 5A girls basketball state tournament.
Spurred by the defensive aggression of reserve guards Taryn Dance and Presley Robison and the offensive excellence of Sydney Gray, Crater rallied from eight points down early in the third quarter for a 41-26 win Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.
Crater (21-4) next heads to Corvallis for the state tournament, which begins with quarterfinals on Thursday. The seventh-seeded Comets face No. 2 seed Lebanon at 8:15 p.m. at Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum.
It’s the third straight year and the fourth time in five seasons Crater has made it to the finals site. It was third in 2015.
Lebanon (21-3) routed No. 15 seed Ridgeview, 72-25, on Saturday.
Lebanon and Central (14-11) are both members of the Mid-Willamette Conference. Lebanon defeated the Panthers twice, by 20- and six-point margins.
The likelihood Crater would upend Central was in doubt for some time.
The 10th-seeded visiting team led a low-scoring first half, 17-13, then scored the first four points of the second half to go ahead by eight.
“In the first half, we couldn’t get our shots to fall, especially inside early,” said Comets coach Scott Dippel. “They had some great interior passing, and (Faith) Berry, one of their posts, had two or three putbacks for scores in the second quarter.
“We were kind of flat offensively.”
The tide changed in the third quarter as Dance and Robison hounded the Central guards, combining for four steals in the period and contributing to others.
“We had 10 in the second half, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were responsible for all of them,” said Dippel, noting the Crater bench has performed well all season. “They put a lot of pressure on and wore their guards down. They changed the game.”
At the other end, Gray asserted herself.
Crater went on a 21-0 run that leaked into the fourth quarter, and Gray, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, scored 15 of the points.
She made three 3-pointers in the third.
“Sydney was fantastic,” said Dippel. “She was really frustrated with how she was playing, so we wanted to get her going, and she definitely did that.”
Gray scored 21 points and had seven rebounds and four steals, helping the Comets hold Central to nine second-half points.
Maya Van Hook recorded eight points and four steals, and Nehkyah Ellis chipped in six rebounds and two steals.
CENTRAL (26): Kantola 2, Means 0, Chavez 5, Trevino 7, Dorn 2, Riddell 0, Berry 10, Gonzalez 0, Hyre 0. Totals: 11 4-8 26.
CRATER (41): Hirsch 1, Dance 0, Idiart 0, Van Hook 8, Robison 0, Gray 21, Ellis 2, Dutkiewicz 0, Woodard 5, Young 4. Totals: 15 7-9 41.
3-point goals — Crater 4 (Gray 3, Woodard 1).