Keizer girls lead Blanchet to first girls basketball title

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

With a roster of mostly sophomores, Blanchet Catholic wasn’t supposed to win a state championship.

But its road to a title didn’t begin two years ago.

It started when five future Lady Cavaliers—Ana Coronado, Bailey Hittner, Hailey Ostby, Lauren Elmore and Trinity Phipps—came together as fifth graders on the same tournament team in the Keizer Youth Basketball Association.

That squad, which won a state middle school championship as sixth graders, was coached by Bailey’s father Ron Hittner, who was an assistant at Corban University and is now the head coach at Blanchet.

“You could definitely tell the potential at an early age,” coach Hittner said. “They loved the game and you knew they were going to improve.”

Kalea Salang joined the girls at KYBA in the eighth grade.

Ron Hittner’s sixth grade KYBA team won a state title. (submitted photo)

“There seemed like there was no weak link to the team,” Salang said. “The whole team, we were all strong players and we went to the state tournament that year and placed third. We already knew from there that we had a gift and we could go far places if we stuck together.”

With all six girls on the varsity team as freshmen, Blanchet made the 3A state tournament last season for the first time since 2012 but were eliminated in the first round.

With the goal of getting back to the playoffs and this time winning, the fifth seeded Cavs easily defeated Amity 51-29 in the first round to advance to the state quarterfinals at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. They then edged No. 4 Portland Adventist 46-44 to play PacWest Conference foe and No. 1 Salem Academy in the semifinals.

Blanchet had defeated the Crusaders by two points early in the season but had since lost twice by an average of 10.5 points.

The Cavs evened the score in the semifinals, winning 51-39 to advance to the state championship game for the first time in school history.

“The kids did a great job executing the game plan,” coach Hittner said.

“We’re a strong defensive team and when we play defense, we can compete with anybody. We also shot the ball well. It was the most complete game we had on offense and defense.”

Up next was two-time defending state champion Dayton, who Blanchet had narrowly lost to back in December.

“We knew us going to the championship game that was a big check but we weren’t settled for that,” Coronado said. “We thought we could push even more and win a championship and make even more history.”

But the Cavs fell behind by 14 points early in the fourth quarter.

Needing a miraculous comeback, the girls went to a defensive drill they’ve practiced since the fifth grade. The objective is to play defense for an entire minute without making a mistake.

Blanchet did it for seven minutes, holding Dayton without a basket while scoring 16 straight points.   

Coronado capped off the run by stealing the ball from two-time 3A player of the year Shawnie Spink and making a layup on the other end to give the Cavs a lead with 30 seconds remaining.

“I wasn’t expecting myself to steal the ball but it was out there so I took it,” said Coronado, who led Blanchet with 13 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the 36-34 state championship victory on Saturday, March 4.

Blanchet, which prides itself on playing full court pressure defense, simply wore Dayton down.

“We still had another gear in us, I guess,” Coronado said. “They got tired at the end and we kept going and kept pushing. We’ve always played that way, since fifth grade. I can’t even explain how big defense is to us. It truly has been our key.”

The Cavs also fed off the crowd.

“The atmosphere was electric,” coach Hittner said.

“Our fans were great and our kids really fed off their energy.”

Once the final buzzer sounded, the girls couldn’t hold back the tears.

“We were all bawling our eyes out in the locker room,” Bailey Hittner said. “I remember turning to Trinity and saying this is what ever since fifth grade has led up to. It’s crazy to think that every practice, every game in the tournament has led to this moment right here. It was just so surreal.”

“I just started crying,” Salang said. “I was so happy for my team and my coaches. The moment was so real and intense. It just took me over. It was just unbelievable. It almost seemed like a happy ending in a movie.”

“It was amazing,” Ostby added. “We’ve been working so many years to get to this point. It was just fun to share it with all of them.”

Bailey, who’s been coached by her dad since she began playing basketball in the third grade at KYBA, said her favorite moment was watching him cut down the net.

“He’s had so many nights where he’d stay up all night doing scouting reports, watching film on the other teams,” Bailey said. “It made me feel super happy to see that all of his hard work had paid off. My dad was just such a great influence on us and he taught us not only about basketball but we’re a family and we have to watch out for each other on and off the court.”

After a snow day, the team, which also includes Sophia Poole, Wendy Liao, Emily Collier, Najma Suri, Sierra Archer and Katey Moore, were honored at a school assembly.

“That’s when it really sank in that we had won state,” Salang said. “The whole weekend, I couldn’t believe that it happened. When we got back to school and they had our bracket and they played a video and it had all our pictures and our trophy, it just seemed so real. It finally sank in that we had won state.”