Seaside’s 2-6 league record may not look like it belongs in the Sweet 16, but that’s where the Gulls are headed, following a Class 4A girls basketball play-in game Feb. 22 at Molalla.

The Gulls clinched their spot in the final 16 with a 41-31 win over Molalla, improving Seaside’s overall record to 14-13 and sending the Gulls on to the first round of the state playoffs.

Lilli Taylor scored 19 points for Seaside, which is one win away from returning to the state tournament for the first time in three years, when they took third in 2016-17.

The Gulls will open the state playoffs Saturday at Baker. The Bulldogs finished second in the final OSAA rankings — but they haven’t faced a team from the tough Cowapa League, which has four teams among the final 16.

“Well, we were able to sneak our way into the state tournament, and Marla (Olstedt, assistant coach) and I couldn’t be more proud to accompany this group,” Hawes said.,” said Seaside coach Mike Hawes, whose team won a first round playoff game at Molalla in the 2016-17 season, 38-31.

If they win Saturday, the Gulls would face either Junction City or Stayton in a first round game of the state tournament, March 7 at 8:15 p.m. at Forest Grove High School (the Seaside boys will likely be playing at 8:15 p.m. the same night, at Pacific University).

Molalla scored the first three points of the game, but Seaside’s Emy Kiser scored the next seven off a steal, an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer. And the Gulls never looked back.

Back-to-back scores from Morgan Blodgett and Lilli Taylor gave Seaside a 15-7 lead. Ruby Douglas hit a 3-pointer to counter a trey by the Indians, and Blodgett knocked down a triple as time expired in the second quarter to give the Gulls a commanding 23-12 halftime lead.

Seaside had to weather a brief third quarter rally by the Indians, who closed to within 26-22, but the Gulls went to their go-to play — Taylor at the free throw line.

The freshman finished 11-for-12 at the line, including 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter alone. With limited defensive pressure from the Indians, the Gulls closed it out with easy scores by Taylor and Douglas in the final 1:20 to pull away.

In addition to her 19 points, Taylor had five rebounds and five assists. Douglas added nine points, Blodgett had eight points and nine boards. Kiser finished with seven points, as only four Seaside players scored.

“The second half (the Indians) made a run and switched to man, and eventually we just turned it over to our freshman,” Hawes said. “We ask an awful lot from this youngster, but sometimes she just has to be the best player on the floor, and tonight she certainly was.”

The Seaside players “did just about all we asked,” he said. “We were disciplined on both ends of the court, got back, worked our offense patiently. Especially in the first half. Emy Kiser got us off to a good start with all seven of her points, which gave us a lead we never relinquished.”

Astoria 44, Gulls 42

ASTORIA — For a game that did not have a whole lot riding on it — both teams had clinched playoff spots — the Seaside and Astoria girls basketball teams put on a pretty good show Feb. 18 at the Brick House.

An offensive rebound basket by Astoria’s Julia Norris as time expired gave the Lady Fish a 44-42 win over their rivals, putting a dramatic end to the Cowapa League seeding game.

The Clatsop Clash win streak for Astoria is now at six, but the previous five all came by fairly decisive margins. The two league meetings this season were both Astoria wins, 57-31 and 43-23.

Astoria just seemed to have Seaside’s number.

The Gulls, however, decided to change their number for this game. And it nearly worked.

By the time it was over, Seaside was probably regretting their 20 turnovers and 10 missed free throws, all of which made a big difference in the closest girls’ Clatsop Clash in years.

Seaside coach Mike Hawes was asking himself after the game, “Well, what words of wisdom does one tell a group of heartbroken kids? My goodness, how far we’ve come in a couple weeks,” since the Gulls lost by 20 on the same floor, Feb. 1.

On the other side, Astoria coach Mike Jacobson had a feeling this one would be close.

“We talked about that before the game,” said the former Seaside coach. “It’s real tough to beat a team three times in one season, and (the Gulls) did a good job of sticking around.”

Just minutes into the game, the score was: Brooklynn Hankwitz 10, Seaside 4, as Astoria’s big junior post scored the first 10 points for her team (and finished with a game-high 17).

Hankwitz picked up a crucial foul just before halftime, and spent more time on the bench in the second half.

And that helped the Gulls turn a 24-18 deficit into a 30-30 tie at the end of the third quarter, which was capped by Annaka Garhofer’s 3-pointer as time expired.

“We knew if we took care of the ball we’d have a chance,” Hawes said. “We had 15 turnovers at the half and we finished with 20, and two or three of those were at the start of the third quarter.

“So once we started passing to each other we got more shots, got our feet set defensively and clawed our way back,” he said.

The entire fourth quarter was back and forth, but the Gulls never led.

With the Fishermen holding a 32-31 lead early in the period, Astoria turned on the “Julia Norris Show.”

The junior — who had no points the first three quarters — scored on a three-point play with 5:53 left, for a 35-31 lead. Her 3-pointer a minute later made it 38-32.

But Seaside didn’t fold. Not this time.

Emy Kiser answered Norris’s three with a 3-pointer of her own, Lilli Taylor scored on an offensive rebound, and Taylor hit a pair of free throws at the 2:18 mark to tie the game, 39-39.

With 1:52 left, Norris made 1-of-2 free throws, then after a defensive stop, Norris scored on an offensive rebound for a 42-39 lead with 1:05 remaining.

Taylor was fouled on Seaside’s next two possessions, and made 3-of-4 free throws (she would finish 7-of-8 at the line).

Tied 42-42 and with 35 seconds left, the Fishermen played for the final shot.

Norris’s drive to the hoop came up short, but she grabbed the offensive rebound and scored as time expired.

“We’ve had two buzzer-beaters this year, and they’re pretty exciting to win that way,” Jacobson said, two weeks after Halle Helmersen beat Banks with a last-second 3-pointer. “Julia was just in the right place at the right time.”

Hawes said, “We extended to help corral (Hailey) O’Brien, but that left Hankwitz solo and she’s good, too. Astoria has lots of weapons, and if one doesn’t get ya the others might, like Norris.”

{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}He added, “I’m proud of these kids. They come to play every night. I think we’ve earned the right to play on, and if we hang on to the ball we just might get the next one.”{/span}

Norris finished with 11 points, all in the fourth quarter, while Kelsey Fausett had nine. Taylor had nine points and Trinity Turner scored eight for the Gulls.

Gulls 38, Valiants 35

After losing to Valley Catholic twice in the regular season, the Seaside girls basketball team showed how to take advantage of the league playoff system Feb. 16 in Beaverton.

In the only game that mattered between the Valiants (12-13) and Lady Gulls (13-12), the Gulls won, 38-35, ending Valley Catholic’s season, and sending Seaside on the Regional play-in round.

The Gulls will play one more seeding game, Monday night, 5:30 p.m. at Astoria. And even with a loss, Seaside’s RPI rating should be good enough for a spot in the regional play-in round.

Seaside coach Mike Hawes called Saturday’s contest, “a close game all the way, in which we seemed to keep a slim lead most of the way,” before Valley Catholic forced a tie at 35-35 with a minute remaining.

Seaside’s Emy Kiser made 1-of-2 free throws for a 36-35 lead, and Kiser was fouled again with eight seconds left and made both free throws.

Ruby Douglas led the Gulls with 15 points, eight in the fourth quarter. In addition, “we really turned the game to Lilli (Taylor) and just created off her,” Hawes said, and Taylor responded with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

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