When South Salem’s starting point guard entered the Bend High gym wearing a walking boot, the Lava Bears could not help but notice.

“I think that kind of got in our heads,” Bend junior Kaycee Brown said of the Saxons’ Hilary James missing the game after suffering a foot injury during Thursday’s practice. “We totally underestimated them. But they’re such a good team, we should not have done that.”

The Lava Bears could not recover from a slow start, falling to South Salem 47-33 Friday night.

The loss cost Bend a chance to overtake the Saxons for first place in the Mountain Valley Conference.

“We did a good job of mentally beating ourselves and we weren’t hitting shots,” Bend coach Allison Gardner said. “I know we’re a team that can beat them (South Salem) on a good day. I think if we piece together a little more composure and a little bit more experience, we’ll eventually be able to down a team like that. They’re well-coached. They know where to get the ball and who has the hot hand and we’re still learning those things. It will come.”

Postponements due to weather meant the Lava Bears were playing on back-to-back nights. Bend defeated visiting McNary 53-48 Thursday in overtime.

“We were asking a tall order to play an intense game last night and then play these guys,” Gardner said of the Saxons, who entered the game 9-1 in the MVC and with their seventh straight win wrapped up at least a share of the league title. “Not making excuses. They played great to travel and have that much energy and to be able to shoot as well as they did, kudos to them.”

Brown, who led Bend with 14 points, could feel the back-to-back games in her legs.

“We just had a really tough touch on the shot tonight,” she said. “Everyone has those games and I definitely think tonight was one of ours. We were getting frustrated with each other and everyone was tired from last night. We were really worn out.”

South Salem grabbed a 9-7 lead midway through the first quarter and never trailed the rest of the way.

After the Saxons extended their advantage to 12 points in the third period, Bend twice got within six points but not any closer.

Caitlin Wheeler added 13 points for the Lava Bears in the loss.

“We had some runs that I was pretty proud of,” Gardner said. “We put together some good defensive stops, rebounded pretty well, and we got some good looks when we needed to have some good looks and we just couldn’t make them. I just think we were tired. I feel bad for them because I think if we had fresh legs it could have been a different game.”

The loss was Bend’s first since falling at South Salem on Jan. 24.

With two games to go, the Lava Bears are 9-3 in league play and tied with West Salem for second place in the MVC. West Salem was also in Bend on Friday, claiming a 47-44 overtime win over Summit.

The top three teams in each Class 6A league automatically qualify for the state playoffs. Other teams will be awarded at-large postseason berths based on their OSAA rankings.

“We knew going into the season and being 6A was going to definitely be a challenge but being tied for second, we feel really good about that,” Brown said. “We of course wanted to be up top but they play hard. They earned it.”

Bend plays at Summit Tuesday and then finishes the regular season next Friday at West Salem.

“We’ve put ourselves in good position and if we take care of business like I know we can, I feel pretty good,” Gardner said. “We need to get ourselves refocused and feeling good about things again.”

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com