- Clay Kallam
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OREGON CITY, Ore. -- Relying on that keen journalistic instinct that has served me so consistently over the years, I turned to Danielle Bishop of Cal Baptist University and said, "This one's over -- I think I've seen enough."
So I headed out of the back gym at the old Oregon City High School campus, confident that the raw athleticism of New Heights out of New York City would continue to wear down the Oregon City high-school team. After all, the game had started out 9-0 for the Easterners, who refused to let the Pioneers get the ball across halfcourt, and the lead was 14 in the second half. But then Melair Holterhoff got hot (three 3-pointers in the last five minutes), New Heights lost its cool, and when the horn sounded, the final count was 67-62 in favor of the suburban girls.
Such upsets are just part of the scene at the 29th annual End of the Oregon Trail tournament. Of course, I didn't get to enjoy it because, by that time, I was watching two of the other 208 teams go at it on the first day of the four-day event. Along for the ride are about 300 college coaches, most from the West Coast, who know that the End of the Trail -- as it is usually known -- is the most prestigious high school girls' summer basketball tournament west of the Mississippi and -- along with the Boo Williams Invitational -- one of the perennial jewels of the spring-summer circuit.
I saw plenty of exciting basketball during the long Sunday at the gym, and a lot of very good players playing very hard. (There's nothing like a horde of coaches, sitting in the stands to inspire the scholarship-hungry athlete.)
One game I stayed to see the end of, promised, for a while at least, to be a bigger upset on Day 1.
The Cy-Fair Shock Nike Elite #1 were playing an exhibition game against the Boulder Rockies Red team, which means simply that the two teams were getting an extra game, and that the results wouldn't affect the single-elimination brackets that began Sunday (both teams won those games, by the way). Cy-Fair was the heavy favorite, given the presence of Chiney Ogwumike, Amanda Anderson, Monique Smalls and Taber Spani. The Rockies had 6-foot-6 Adrianna Prins -- the tallest player on a tall, resilient team.
In fact, Boulder was so resilient, it dominated the first three-quarters of the game (there are two 16-minute, stop-timed halves at the EOT) before Tashayla Cooney-Williams went strong to the hoop to finally get Cy-Fair even at 49. Slightly more than a minute later, Cooney-Williams followed in a miss to give the Texans a 51-49 lead, and most figured that it was time for the Rockies to accept the reality of the situation and be satisfied with a hard-fought defeat.
But Quincey Noonan, a 2010 from Legacy High School in Colorado, promptly blew up, handing out two straight assists, scoring on a drive, and converting two free throws after a steal. That made it 57-51 for Boulder with 6:51 left, and visions of the big upset once more became tangible.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, four straight turnovers, and six in eight trips over a 3:20 span, brought Cy-Fair within two, and then Spani took over. She had eight points down the stretch -- and Cooney-Williams added a back-breaking 3 -- and the Texans pulled away to win by nine (that's a 15-point turnaround in the last 6:51 if you're into number crunching).
Amanda Anderson, was the leading scorer for Cy-Fair with 19; Chiney Ogwumike fouled out with just eight points (though she was more than willing to help her coach manage strategy in the last few minutes from her spot at the end of the bench). Prins topped Boulder with 15, but she didn't play at all during the Rockies' late tailspin.
There were other close calls for the heavyweights. Earlier in the day, a very unheralded team, the Sacramento Believers, created some serious doubt in the minds of one of the tourney favorites, the Mile Hi Magic Gold, and led by four with 14:20 remaining, 32-28. When Sam Ostarello gave Mile High the lead a minute later, it sparked a 12-0 run for the Colorado team that should have sent the Believers into the loser's bracket.
Kirsten Shimizu and Cyndi Matsuoka, both from Kennedy High School (the Northern California runner-up in the large school division high-school playoffs), helped cut the lead back to one with 6:41 to go. Then, however, the much superior size of Mile Hi took effect, as Joanna McFarland and Diana Rolniak took over the boards. It didn't hurt that Rachel Messer converted two straight drives to extend the lead to eight, and the favorites survived an early scare.
I'm sure there were other exciting games on Sunday, but, considering that there are 16 sites sprawled out south of Portland (so sprawled out, in fact, that one unlucky team got lost and had to forfeit its first-round game), there's just no way to see everything -- or anywhere close to everything.
But undaunted, I will try again Monday, hoping to track down the tourney's top teams as they try to win five straight games and move into Wednesday's Final Four. (There are four 32-team brackets in the National Division, and the winners of each get to play for the overall championship, which will be decided Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.) Hopefully, though, my nose for news will be a little more sensitive in the coming days, and I'll be able to actually witness the big upsets rather than just hear about them later.
Clay Kallam is a contributor to ESPN HoopGurlz. He is the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls Basketball: Building a Winning Program" and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.