By Mathew Brock

Pilot Staff Writer

It’s been a long road this year for the Gold Beach girls basketball team, but the Panthers ended their 2018 basketball season as one of their most successful in recent memory.

After taking the Sunset Conference title, the Panthers defeated their first playoff opponent and secured a spot in the 2018 2A State Basketball Tournament in Pendleton, where they were ultimately defeated by the Monroe Dragons, last year’s state champions in the quarterfinals and then losing in the consolation bracket against the Oakland Oakers.

Throughout their league season, it seemed like the Panthers would dominate the Sunset Conference as they went most of the season undefeated before eventually hitting a wall against the Toledo Boomers in their rematch game on Feb. 9. The Panthers were a bit jostled after having their eight-game winning streak abruptly disrupted by a team they had already beaten earlier in the season, but they immediately picked up the tempo with a win against the Bandon Tigers the following week.

Normally, the Sunset Conference final placements would be decided by overall scores, but this year the Panthers and Boomers stood at 9-1 each, having only been defeated by each other all season. The only way to settle things was one final match, where the Panthers played an intense game to take a narrow 42-40 win on Feb. 16, no more than a week after their initial defeat.

Once the league placements had been decided, the teams of the Sunset Conference convened to decide on all conference awards. Paris Newdall was awarded Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row, as well as a first team nomination along with Kayleanna Ridens.

Brandee Allen received a second team nomination despite missing several games due to injury, while Jordan Rucker and Brianna Seuser-Smith received honorable mentions.

Coach Chris Clark was voted Coach of the Year by the other coaches of the Sunset Conference after leading his team to the league title and hopefully beyond into the state playoffs.

“I’ve been so lucky to bring these kids where they are and watch them grow up,” said Clark. “It’s really the kids that help the coach succeed, and I’ve been honored.”

From there, the Panthers faced the Lost River Pirates, who had defeated the Panthers 44-32 early in the non-league season. But this time around the results were nearly the opposite as the Panthers took a 42-34 win to advance them to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

When the Panthers go to the playoffs, they get to perform a special ritual just for the occasion. Each member climbs a ladder to cut off a single piece of the net to keep as a souvenir.

“We’re going to need to host a car wash or something this year to raise money for a new one,” Panthers Coach Chris Clark joked while cutting down the last of the net. “We had many former team members there who never made it to state, come for our playoff game, and it’s great they were able to live vicariously through us making it.”

The Panthers played their quarterfinal game last Thursday at Pendleton High School against the Monroe Dragons, the defending state champions, who managed to overwhelm the Panthers at a wide 74-31. The Dragons went on to take second place in the tournament after being defeated by the Kennedy Trojans.

“There was a bit of shock and awe just being here and experiencing this,” said Clark. “If we can get teams here several years consecutively and help the younger kids experience it, you can build a culture that’s about really competing it instead of just making it.”

From there, the Panthers were moved to the consolation bracket, where they faced the Oakland Oakers, the only team besides Kennedy to defeat Monroe this year. In the end the Panthers lost their final game at 54-30.

“The girls played their heart out and left it all on the field,” Clark said. “Towards the end we realized this was the end, but we looked back on the year and the highlights and managed to finish things out strong.

With this year finished, Clark has already set his sights on the next. He plans to do what he can to grow the small team, but this year’s graduating class will really take a toll on the team’s numbers.

The Panthers graduate eight seniors this year, losing Kayleanna Ridens, Emily Turner, Jordan Rucker, Brandy Allen, Te’a Willis, Katie Hagood, Avi Gaston and Paris Newdall.

The Panthers will host a basketball camp later this summer with the final date to be decided.