In the hours after West Linn's attempt at a fifth straight Class 6A state championship slid out from underneath them Nolan Bertain, knowing what lied ahead the next day, rattled off a preempted text to the team he once ran with.
Some called it predestined fate. Others said it was poetic justice. But for whatever reason the basketball gods brought Bertain and the Beaverton boys basketball team back together in the 6A third place game on Saturday. Bertain left the Beavers after two star-studded seasons in orange and black for West Linn, who welcomed seven other transfers into the fold before the season. Why Bertain departed didn't really matter any more. Bertain wished the Beavers good luck and said it was an honor to share the court with them in their final game as seniors, even though they'd be wearing different colored jerseys. He wasn't looking for a response, but merely wanted to extend an olive branch to his former teammates who together accomplished a lot in two seasons including winning a Metro League championship. What's done was done. Bygones were bygones. Beaverton reached the state semifinals without Bertain and he, likewise, made it to the semis with West Linn and new group of teammates.
Nothing more needed to be said, at least at that point.
And so, a consolation contest that normally lacks juice had all sorts of electricity to it. There was a palpable buzz in the Chiles Center as Bertain took the floor and his stone-faced former mates turned their attention to the tip-off. Beaverton and West Linn each had aspirations of playing in the state championship game, of course. But with the disappointment of seeing a dream die, both teams were lifted by the thought of ending the year with a win, and bragging rights.
The game was played at a blitzing pace. West Linn went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter and led by as much as 17, only to have Beaverton bowl back to within 58-50 with a double-digit spurt of its own early in the fourth.
Ultimately the Lions got a tide-stopping three-pointer from Drayton Caoile and a big two-handed dunk from Bertain to give West Linn a 65-53 lead and an eventual 71-58 win to take third overall at the 6A state tournament on Saturday. The gut punch of losing to Clackamas in the semis lingered, but only for a few hours after the defeat. The sun rose again on Saturday morning and with bright futures ahead for the Lions, West Linn went about ending its wild season on a high note.
"We competed hard against a really, really good Beaverton team and I think that showed our character on the team," Bertain said. "We easily could've folded and thought 'Oh, it's third place, it doesn't mean anything'. But, it does. It was a pride game for us and we wanted to end this season with a win. Not a lot of teams get to do that. We were all really upset after losing to Clackamas, but sometimes the ball just rolls the other way. That's part of basketball and part of life, too. I like that we came back and got the win."
The end of a tumultuous season that saw the Lions come into the state's crosshairs because of their head-turning amount of transplants concluded on the right foot.
"I'm super proud of my teammates," West Linn senior point guard Braden Olsen said. "It's been great seeing them come here and do so well. Everyone became better as people. The coaches got better, the players got better, the whole team got better. We were peaking at the right time. It's too bad we didn't go out the way we wanted to, but it's awesome to bond like this."
Beaverton, meanwhile, finished fifth at state after giving eventual state champion Jefferson a stiff challenge that lingered long into the fourth quarter in the semifinals on Friday. Hunter Sweet, Cole Johanson, Carson Crawford, Jamie Sweatman, Beau Sheeran and Wyatt Christophersen — the Beaver seniors who were so instrumental helping turn the program around under head coach Andrew Vancil — completed their careers with their heads held high and a substantial amount of prosperity under their belts. They were joined by junior Jake Estep, who transferred from Tigard and might arguably been the state's best offseason relocation after garnering first-team all tournament honors. The forward played magnificently in the playoffs, scoring at least 20 points in the final four games including a 26-point gem against West Linn. Taking Metro again, beating Westview four times in one season including a huge win the 6A quarterfinals and winning a combined 44 games the past two years all fell under the Beavers' umbrella of success. And, with the incredibly supportive community backing them every step of the way and arguably the best student section in the land, Beaverton's senior crew finished off its careers with a banner season.
"I have to give it up to our seniors and our fans," Crawford said. "Our fans are probably the best in the state and they keep it going regardless of it's a state tournament game or a game out in Glencoe. We owe a lot a to them and I just love the Beaverton community and what they do. A lot of people know how tight of a group this is and I'll always be homies with these guys because there's no guy I don't love on this team. We left a positive impact on Beaverton High School."
Beaverton placed at the state tournament for the first time since 2002 and did so with a senior-heavy crew that played for Vancil on the freshmen team back in '12-13 and progressed together as they moved to the varsity ranks.
"When you see Beaverton on the schedule, it's not an easy win anymore," Crawford said. "Two years before we came to Beaverton, they didn't win a game in Metro. It's way different now. Vancil tells about the times he'd see Beaverton get beat by Aloha by 15 or get beat by Jesuit by 40 in our own gym. That doesn't happen anymore. It's good to see Beaver basketball back on the map."
And while Bertain's sharpshooting and athleticism would have gladly been welcomed back into the mix this season, Crawford said Beaverton wasn't crying over spilled milk.
"The team we had this year was the team we were supposed to go war with every day," Crawford said. "I wouldn't want anyone else on our team. Truthfully, we could all take criticism from each other. Hunter would get on my (butt) every day in practice and I would do the same thing back to him — the Metro Player of the Year last year and first-team all-state player. Every player was coachable with each other. Our coaches were on us every single day to get better. Everybody bought into Coach Vancil, Coach (Paul) Noonan, Coach (Matt) Hottman's plan and that's what made us so effective. We got on each other, but you didn't see us fighting on the court. You didn't see us taking criticism personally. At the end of the day we all loved each other like brothers. That goes back to that community aspect and I just think Beaverton is something special."
Sweet finished his stellar career as the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder. And in his final gave as a Beaver, Sweet went into his bag of throwback post moves — the head fakes, the drop steps, the subtle twists and turns that flummoxed so many athletic bigs over the years — and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds against West Linn's front line of Keishon Dawkins and Khalid Thomas.
"I think a lot of people overlooked us," Sweet said. "I think we exceeded a lot of expectations this year and what people thought of us. I'm proud of everyone on this team top-to-bottom. Vancil was able to see us mature and turn not only into players but young men. It's been exciting. We've had a lot of alumni reaching out to us, wishing us luck. It's been a great ride. You're not sad it's over, you're just happy it happened."
For all the media scrutiny, the social media vile and overall ill will aimed at West Linn all year-long, the Lions were a group that played well together and for better or worse were forced to grow up quickly under a litany of seething scrutiny.
"Coming into this my main goal was to grow as a person and as a man and be ready for the next level," Bertain said. "My main goal wasn't to win a ring. And I know everybody else's goal wasn't to win a ring, either. At the end of the day if you're a better basketball player, a better person and you found really good friends that you'll have for a long time, that's all that matters. If I have that in my back pocket, that's what I care about most. I'm just glad I was part of the West Linn community."
Whatever gym West Linn walked into, it was public enemy number one. Saturday was no different. The Beaver student section knew exactly what school Bertain, Thomas, Dawkins and Rodney Hounshell hailed from. Each time that said player touched the ball it was either "Salem" or "Tigard" or "LO" chanted at them from above the Chiles Center hardwood. To the Lions, such razzing was nothing new.
"We love when people hate on us," Olsen said. "We kind grew to like it. It was constant all the time: Twitter, texts, crowds. Obviously when you win and when you have big names on your team people are gonna be jealous of you and hate on you — even adults. You just gotta go through it. But when it was game time we were just ready to play and tried to not listen to it. Everyone is here is my brother."
For all the talk about transfers, Olsen was a Lion for all four years, a guy who battled through injury and paid his dues playing behind Payton Pritchard. The senior was the tie that bonded West Linn together this year, making sure Bertain, Dawkins, Hounshell and Thomas all got their shot attempts up in the spots they wanted on the floor all the while scoring at a high clip. As West Linn's orchestrator, Olsen set the table in a way that made the Lions' offense hum and led the state in assists.
The ambidextrous playmaker was at his best against Beaverton, finishing with 19 points, five assists and just three turnovers. Olsen swished three straight threes to begin the game and set an unselfish tone with his passing. Thomas tacked on 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting while Bertain added eight points.
"The energy was key," Bertain said. "If you bring that to the court, you can play with anyone — no matter who it is — and play with heart. I thought we did both today."