The Dufur Rangers captured their first district championship since the 2005 season after beating Echo by a 50-44 margin Saturday in Madras.

It has been 15 long years since the Dufur girls basketball program has been relevant in the Big Sky Conference’s upper echelon.

After Saturday’s 50-44 victory over Echo in the district championship game, this young core could be on the top of the heap for many years to come.

The Rangers led 22-19 at the half, and 33-31 entering the final quarter.

Ahead 48-44 with less than 20 seconds left and Echo in possession of the ball, Ranger senior Katie Beal blocked a shot, and was fouled for the 1-and-1, but missed the front end, grabbed her own rebound ahead of four Cougar players and got the putback layup, which gave Dufur its 50-44 victory.

With the boundless energy, the baseline-to-baseline defensive tenacity and balanced scoring brought in by first-year head coach Nathan Morris and his assistants, Tony White and Heather Walters, there is a system in place that every player loves and the passion exudes on the hardwood on a nightly basis.

Following a 10-win season and a district exit, the Lady Rangers went 17-8, 9-3 in league and allowed 82 points fewer in two less games played.

“We had a goal set at the beginning of the year of going to districts and I told them, ‘let’s see if we can amp it up a little bit and get out of districts, because I think we can win districts,’” Morris said. “I always knew we had the potential, but I don’t think that I have ever been a part of team that has seen this much growth from the beginning of the year to where we are now. Just the confidence, playing poised and under control and buying in to what we are doing defensively are the biggest differences. It has been really impressive and fun to be a part of.”

On any given night Dufur’s leading scorer changes, so opposing teams have difficult singling out one player to try to stop.

Defensively, Morris swaps his starters for his bench to keep players fresh and energized enough to chase   ball handlers, force mistakes and transition baskets in what is dynamic defensive formation that forced 16 Echo turnovers.

“We made a change about five or six games in, where we did the rotation thing,” Morris said. “I think we went about eight deep before that, and we started going five-in and five-out. The change you see most with the girls is that everybody knows that they are part of something, that they are in this together. I think that is the biggest thing.

“We were very intentional about the philosophy we wanted as far as the style of play and what we wanted to do.

“We kind of branded ourselves in that style. We got unicorns everywhere and that’s who we are, and they buy in to that.”

Dufur hosts a team to be announced Friday at the Ranger Dome.

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