An elusive league title appears within reach

by:   JOHN LARIVIERE - Even triple teams failed to slow Madras standout Jered Pichette in last weeks game at Gladstone, as Pichette scored 30 points in a 52-43 White Buffalo loss. Defending for Gladstone in the photo are: Sean Williams (left), Handsome Smith (center) and Trevor Browning (right).The Gladstone Gladiators last week continued on track for one of their best boys basketball seasons in years, knocking off always tough Madras 52-43 on Thursday, after stopping Molalla 54-24 earlier in the week.

With the pair of wins, the fifth-ranked Gladiators (18-3, 8-1) remained tied with La Salle (18-3, 8-1), in first place in the Tri-Valley Conference, heading into this week’s Feb. 25 league final with 15th-ranked North Marion (14-9, 6-3).

It took a solid team game and sharing the basketball for the Gladiators to get by the upset-minded Madras White Buffaloes in last Thursday’s game, played before an enthusiastic and supportive crowd at Gladstone High School.

Madras star point guard Jered Pichette was on fire, and he did everything he could to beat the Gladiators all by himself, scoring 30 points, assisting on four baskets, snagging seven rebounds and stealing the sphere five times.

Pichette couldn’t be stopped. He hit 8-of-14 field goals, including four 3-pointers, and the 5-10 do-everything junior hit 10-of-13 free throws, as the Gladiators struggled to stop him.

“He’s difficult to defend,” said Gladstone coach Ted Yates. “We tried several different things to no avail.... I’m glad to have Madras behind us.”

“He’s super quick and elusive,” said Gladstone senior guard Trevor Browning. “He’s been playing basketball a long time, and it shows.”

“And he’s very aggressive,” added Gladstone senior forward Ryun Gibson.

Still, the White Buffaloes’ one-man show struggled to keep up with the Gladiators, who had too many weapons for Madras defenders to keep track of.

While only four Madras players scored, eight different Gladstone players found the basket, led by junior reserve forward Justice Fridell (13 points) and senior forward Ryun Gibson (12 points, 5 assists).

“For us, we don’t know who’s going to score for us on a given night,” said Yates. “Everyone can shoot the ball and score. That’s our strength. It makes it tough for people to defend.”

Fridell was dynamite in the Madras game, hauling down a career-high 11 rebounds on the night and scoring all of his points in the second half, when he hustled to grab offensive boards for three putbacks.

Gibson was also huge on the backboards, corralling a season-high 11 rebounds himself, as the Gladiators out-rebounded their guests 27-17.

“Justice didn’t play last year, but he’s been getting better all season,” said Yates. “He’s playing well and peaking at the right time. He hits the glass hard....”

“He crashed the boards hard tonight,” said Browning. “But he’s been doing that all season.... He made a couple of buckets in the third quarter that were huge in getting us the lead.”

Gladstone trailed only briefly at the start of the game, but the White Buffaloes stayed close, until three minutes into the third period, when Fridell started to take charge.

Fridell scored a lay-up off an inbound pass from Handsome Smith to up Gladstone’s lead to five points, at 28-23.

Following a Madras miss, Sean Williams cashed in from 3-point land, and it was a 31-23 ball game.

The two teams traded misses, then Fridell upped the Gladiator lead to 33-23 with a putback on a missed 3-pointer.

Another putback by Fridell upped the Gladiator lead to 35-23, and his fast-break bucket with 1:35 left in the third stanza made it 37-23.

He added a tip-in of a missed shot for a 39-25 Gladiator lead as the third quarter was winding down, and the White Buffaloes never got closer than seven points the rest of the way, despite Pichette’s heroics. Pichette scored 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, when he hit three of his four treys.

The Gladiators were 22-of-53 from the field on the night, while the White Buffaloes were 14-of-41.

Gladstone had 10 turnovers, to 17 by Madras.

With a win over North Marion on Tuesday (Feb. 25), the Gladiators would claim at least a share of only their third league title in two decades. Gladstone teams were co-champions with Madras and North Marion in 2011. Before that, they were league champions in 1991, 1992 and 1998.

“I think we’re in a great spot, since we split with La Salle,” said Browning. “And if we take care of business with North Marion, we’ll be in a real good position to make [the state championship tournament at] Gill Coliseum.”

Comparing this year’s team to last year’s squad that went to Gill Coliseum, Gibson said, “I feel we’re more of a team. We’re unselfish. It’s a pass, pass, pass, and lay-up type of game.”

Browning had kind words for Gladstone’s home crowd: “They really pump us up. We’ve been able to protect our home court this season and the fans have been a big part of that.”

“They definitely help with momentum,” said Gibson. “When they get loud, it gives me energy and makes me want to play harder.”

“We really appreciate them and we hope they follow us to Gill,” Browning said.

The Gladiators played one of their better defensive games of the year in their Feb. 18 game at Molalla. It was the lowest scoring game of the year for the Indians, who entered the contest averaging 47 points an outing.

Still, it wasn’t until the second half that the Gladiators put their hosts away. Nursing a 22-14 halftime lead, the Gladiators outscored the Indians 22-3 in the third period.

“We made some adjustments on defense,” said Gladstone coach Ted Yates. “We changed our press and our half-court defense, and it got us going.”

The Gladiators forced 30 turnovers in the game, 11 of them coming in the third period.

“[In the third quarter] it was an explosion unlike any I’ve ever seen,” said Yates. “Ryun Gibson started us off with a dunk.... Austin Galvin had four steals [in the third period]....”

Besides struggling to maintain control of the ball, the Indians had a tough time getting shots to drop. They made only eight field goals out of 34 attempts (.235) in the game.

Ten Gladstone players scored, led by Sean Williams (11 points), Gibson (10 points) and Justice Fridell (8 points). Williams was 3-of-6 from 3-point land.

Galvin and Handsome Smith both had four assists on the night. Galvin had six steals in the game.

Smith and Fridell led Gladstone to a 26-19 advantage on the backboards.

Tyler Gengler scored 10 points to lead the Indians.

Last Thursday’s 52-43 win over Madras was the Gladiators’ eighth win in a row.

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