COOS BAY, Ore. — The chant started in the dying minutes, with a Sutherlin player at the foul line and the Clatskanie lead in double digits.
Kendra Poor-Blodgett — Clatskanie coach John Blodgett’s sister, and star Shelby Blodgett’s aunt — stood up from her spot in the second row across from the Tigers bench, turned around, and gestured to the crowd in red and white behind her with a quick set of instructions between free throws.
When the second one fell, all of the friends and family held up three fingers, and it started, first in the Clatskanie half of the lower stands, then around the gymnasium at Marshfield High School, echoed by the Yamhill-Carlton boys basketball team, waiting to play its game next, and beyond to the neutrals from the coast who had turned out to watch the Tigers make history:
Three-peat. Three-peat. Three-peat.
“We just have so much support,” Shelby Blodgett said. “Being able to see people chanting ‘Three-peat’ for us is something you would never have thought for Clatskanie. We made history, and I don’t know what else to say about it.”
When the final buzzer rang out, the Tigers had indeed three-peat. The core that won its first title back in 2019, then snuck in a second just before the world shut down in 2020, capped off the return of sports along the western Columbia in emphatic fashion, downing Sutherlin 55-44 to become the first 3A program to win back-to-back-to-back state titles in at least 25 years.
“I don’t think I can explain it in words,” Olivia Sprague said. “I think our reaction from the community explains it pretty well. We’re excited. It’s something that doesn’t happen ever, especially in our town. It’s a great feeling, and I’m excited.”
When the fall of 2020 came and went without any high school sports for the first time in over a century, John Blodgett said his team felt “dismal.” After the calendar flipped over into 2021, and the Tigers learned there would be an abridged, altered, and delayed season, the feeling changed to “elation.”
But before practices started, knowing that this season would be weird and easy to treat differently, Blodgett asked for explicit buy-in from all of his players. And he made them put it in writing.
Friday, after the clock hit triple-zeroes, Blodgett – wearing his traditional gaudy pajama pants reserved for championships and a good-luck T-shirt from the 2020 run under a white polo – reminded his team of the pledges they’d made, and what they’d succeeded in doing. That’s when the celebration cranked up to another level.
“Everybody wrote out that we’re committed and we’re in,” he said. “And it paid off. It’s even sweeter when something like that happens.”
It was a win that looked a fair bit different than the rest of Clatskanie’s 13 victories in its undefeated run. Like Thursday’s Final Four matchup against Nyssa, the Tigers found themselves in a tight matchup early, leading just 13-11 on a pair of last-second Sprague free throws at the end of the first quarter. But unlike the semifinal, there would be no dominant run of offense to explode the lead into double digits.
Instead, it was just suffocating defense.
“Every time, our emphasis is on defense,” coach Blodgett said. “We’ve got to contest every shot.”
Sutherlin made it 11-10 with a field goal at the 1:25 mark of the first quarter. The Bulldogs wouldn’t find the basket from the field again until there was under a minute remaining in the second. For much of that time, the Tigers could do little more on offense, until Cloee McLeod sparked the closest thing to a trademark Clatskanie run the game would have, with a pair of transition layups and an assist on a third. Those six points pushed the lead to 24-11, and while the lead wouldn’t get any higher than 13 until midway through the fourth, it was the breathing room Clatskanie needed.
And when it came down to crunch time, the Tigers turned to their co-stars. Sprague and Shelby Blodgett scored all 11 of Clatskanie’s points in the third quarter, and spent most of the fourth running a time-killing offense, weaving back and forth with McLeod around the perimeter.
“We figured we didn’t need to go fast like we like to,” coach Blodgett said. “Take a minute or more each possession and run some clock out.”
Sprague finished her high school career with a 16-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple double. Blodgett led the way in scoring and on the glass, with 20 points and 16 rebounds, and added nine steals in her final game in a Tigers uniform. Immediately following the game, both were named to the all-tournament first team.
“They were so important to the whole thing,” coach Blodgett said. “These other kids feed off of them.”
McLeod added eight points and was named to the all-tournament second team. Maya Helmen scored five. Kaitlyn Sizemore pitched in six rebounds, many coming in the final two minutes after Blodgett picked up her fifth personal foul, limiting Sutherlin to one shot and letting the Tigers burn more clock.
As soon as Blodgett had to leave, the Bulldogs tried to string one last desperate run together down 17, hitting three free throws and a 3-pointer to trim it to 11. But as soon as Sutherlin’s triple hit the twine, Kylie Thomas was sprinting down the court, and as Clatskanie had been unable to do most of the low-scoring game, the Tigers found her over the top for a transition layup with 31 seconds left.
From there, it was a matter of free throws, though the Bulldogs got a few extra following a last-second technical foul on John Blodgett after Sprague picked up her fifth personal foul on a play in which she was thrown to the ground.
“I felt like I owed that one to Sprague,” he said with a laugh.
But the deficit was far too much, far too late. The chant kept ringing out, heralding Clatskanie’s historic three-peat the rest of the way, then reignited on the court as the Tigers cut down yet another net. Each took a piece of twine, many posing with it in one hand and three fingers on their other raised.