Mardy Benedict has seen the Lebanon High School girls basketball program accomplish many things since he first came on board with the team in 1991.
But one goal has eluded the Warriors during Benedict’s coaching tenure: an outright conference championship. That goal is within reach for Lebanon with two games remaining on its Mid-Willamette Conference schedule.
“We’ve been so close and we never have. It would be pretty special,” Benedict said.
Lebanon is 13-1 in conference play (18-3 overall). The Warriors were scheduled to host Crescent Valley (14-7, 10-4) on Tuesday night and then close out the schedule with a game at North Salem (8-12, 4-10) on Friday.
Trailing the Warriors in the standings is Silverton (19-3, 13-2). The Warriors won both meetings with the Foxes this season, taking a 44-32 victory at home on Jan. 4 and earning a 56-50 win at Silverton on Feb. 6.
The first victory over Silverton kicked off what has become a 12-game winning streak for the Warriors, who downed visiting West Albany 59-41 on Friday, Feb. 15.
The Warriors’ defense dominated the Bulldogs, creating 11 deflections as the team finished with 22 steals.
“They just had fun with it. They read the passes,” Benedict said. “They got their hands on a bunch of balls.”
Senior post Ellie Croco led the way defensively with three deflections and seven steals. She also scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Fellow senior Megan Miller had eight steals with two deflections and scored 10 points. Paige Wombacher tallied 11 points and Maddy Romeo hit three 3-pointers on her way to nine points.
“On any given night somebody else is going to be strong for us and have big night and that’s what’s special about this group,” Benedict said. “Our bench is solid. They come in and work hard and give us great minutes.”
West Albany senior guard Lexie Stinson hit five 3-pointers and tallied 15 points to lead the Bulldogs.
“We gave her some 3s. That wasn’t in the game plan,” Benedict said.
For Miller, the win streak is validation of the effort the players have made.
“It’s nice to know that our hard work is paying off, but we still have a long ways to go. There’s always room for improvement and there’s no time to slack off,” Miller said.
She was reluctant to talk about the conference championship before it is a reality.
“We’ve got to take care of business. We can’t take anything for granted,” she said.
For Benedict, the successful season is the result of the team’s positive approach.
“The girls have bought in to controlling what they can control and working hard. It’s just a great group of poised girls. Even when they do get out of sorts, they’ll just bring it back,” Benedict said.
With the winning streak, Lebanon has climbed to No. 4 in the OSAA 5A girls basketball rankings. Despite the Warriors’ two victories over the Foxes, Silverton is ranked two spots higher.
Crescent Valley, the Warriors’ opponent on Tuesday, is ranked eighth.