From 9-Seed To State Champion: Crescent Valley Marks Mission Complete For The First Time Since 1978

Corvallis — Undeterred by the challenges of #1 Willamette and #4 Ridgeview on Thursday and Friday, the hometown Raiders came to Gill Coliseum on a mission Saturday night, bring home the first blue trophy since 1978. For the Raiders, it was the perfect place and atmosphere as Oregon State University is located a mere 2-3 miles from their school, a place you could call familiar territory or friendly confines. Regardless, they had half of a packed arena rooting for them and a spectacular student section turnout for the 5A state championship against Springfield. It couldn’t have been anymore picture perfect for Crescent Valley, and they delivered an executed plan to bring home a state title.

Despite the home court advantage, the Raiders were playing catch-up early on against Springfield, as the Millers brought their own crew and energy to Gill Coliseum. Kylie Rankins and Danaeja Romero-Ah Sam were undeterred nor intimidated, getting the Millers an early edge on the Raiders in the first quarter. Gabby Bland would get Crescent Valley their first lead with a trey that made it 11-10 with 1:48 left in the first, but Juju Henderson put together some scoring at the end of the quarter to get Springfield ahead 14-13 after one quarter at Gill.

In what would become the defining stat of the game, Gabby Bland started heating up from downtown and everyone else followed suit for Crescent Valley. Bland hit a trey that got the Raiders back in front 18-16, with Nicole Huang hitting one right after Springfield tied it to make it 21-18 Crescent Valley. A few minutes later, it was Gabby Bland again from deep, extending it to 24-18 with 3:40 left until the half. Bland would connect again from deep and hit a mid-range as well before halftime, as her heroics got Crescent Valley a 31-23 halftime edge over Springfield, who simply had no answers to the Raiders perimeter successes. Gabby Bland had 19 points at the break, including a 5-7 mark from downtown and 7-9 overall from the field. Kylie Rankins was connecting on free throws for the Millers, leading the team with eight points at halftime.

Coming out of halftime, the Millers found some traction from Alexi Morgan and Romero-Ah Sam, who managed to shrink the Raiders lead down to 31-27 early in the third quarter. However, just as she had all game, Gabby Bland connected from deep to swing the momentum right back to the Raiders 34-27. Molly Campbell would hit a bucket that made it 36-27, then Gabby Bland connected from downtown once again to push the lead to double-digits 39-27 with 2:23 left in the third. Springfield mustered together some points to close the quarter from Henderson, Morgan, and Romero Ah-Sam, but the Millers still trailed 41-34 entering the fourth.

Holding on to a seven-point lead entering the home stretch, Crescent Valley played the clock game and burned it on Springfield, with only being two baskets being scored combined for the first six minutes of the final quarter. After that, the Raiders just had to hit their free throws and they were home free. In a cap of a historical performance, Gabby Bland hit the final six free throws for Crescent Valley as they closed out Springfield for their first state title since 1978 with a 50-39 win over the Millers. Gabby Bland finished with 31 points on 9-12 shooting, including a 70% clip from behind-the-arc in the game. Danaeja Romero-Ah Sam and Juju Hendersen led Springfield with 11 and 10 points respectively in their runner-up performance.

In even a larger picture of historical significance, the last Crescent Valley team to win the state title back in 1978 featured the grandmother of Gabby and Haley Bland, Joni Fox. During their state title run, Fox was selected as first team all-state for the Raiders, and Gabby Bland was selected for the first team all-state team on Saturday night for her performance at the 5A state tournament. For the Bland family, it was a generational connection that came full circle at Gill Coliseum on Saturday night. As for the program at large, it was proof that numbers are simply just that, and that seeding doesn’t really matter in the end. The Raiders found themselves constantly undervalued by coaches and media this season, but they made their statement be heard on the court. Out of all the 5A teams, the state champion was the one who stayed humble and didn’t talk smack, they instead smacked you on the court, which is where it ultimately matters.

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