La Salle boys rally past Newport, while La Salle girls hold off Cascade

by: JON HOUSE - HOW SWEET IT IS! - La Salle Prep boys basketball players celebrate following Saturday nights win over the Newport Cubs. The Falcons have had a surprisingly successful season this winter, after graduating most of the players who played on last years team that placed third at the 2013 Class 4A State Championship Tournament.After struggling to find the basket in the first half, the second-ranked La Salle Falcons on Saturday upped their aggressiveness at both ends of the floor after the halftime break and rallied to a 50-37 win over the upset-minded Newport Cubs, in a Class 4A boys basketball “sweet 16” playoff game at La Salle.

The 19th-ranked Cubs showed up ready to play and, while the Falcons fired up blanks over Newport’s zone defense, the Cubs surged to a 12-2 first quarter advantage.

The heavily favored Falcons trailed until a minute into the third quarter, when Keeston Smith turned a rebound into a three-point play, with a layup and free throw. His free throw made it 19-17 La Salle.

Reece Wible got a steal on the Cubs’ next position and his outlet pass led to a fast-break basket by Luke Kolln. And the Falcons began to take control, leading 21-17.

Wible got three more steals before the third quarter was out. And by the time the quarter was over, the Falcons found themselves up 35-27, and they had the game in hand. Seven different La Salle players scored in the third period, as the entire Falcon team appeared to awaken from a slumber.

Except for lukewarm free throw shooting in the fourth quarter [9-for-17], the Falcons would have won the game by an even widen margin.

While La Salle was an ice-cold 5-of-25 (20 percent) from the field in the first half, the Falcons went 10-for-20 from the field after the break.

“Every team goes through a shooting slump,” said La Salle senior point guard Luke Kolln. “We have good shooters. We have a lot of players who are really good shooters.... We knew it was just a matter of time before our shots started to drop.”

“We were more selective [in the second half],” said La Salle junior Keeston Smith. “We were more focussed and we worked the ball around to get the best shot.”

Newport was 4-of-9 from the field in the first quarter, but only 11-of-30 from the field in the final three periods.

“I think the 11 days between games affected us in the first quarter on offense....,” said La Salle coach Jared Curtiss. “Our depth and speed in the third quarter was the main reason we won. We knew our guards had to get to the paint and we had to get our bigs the ball, where we shot the ball well; and we needed to crash the boards hard to get putbacks....

“The Cubs only play seven kids and [by the end of the game], they were very, very tired.”

Wible had a huge game all-around, scoring a team-high 15 points, claiming five rebounds and stealing the sphere seven times. Wible played a pivotal role in keeping the Falcons in the game in the first half, scoring all four of their field goals — three of them 3-pointers — in the second period.

Smith (14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) did most of his scoring in the second half.

Kolln (11 points, 3 assists) also scored in double figures for the Falcons.

Brendan Thurber-Blaser, a 6-1 sophomore, scored 16 points; and 6-2 senior Luke Richcreek added 11 points to lead the Cubs.

For the game, the Falcons had eight turnovers, compared with 19 by their guests.

The win advanced La Salle to the Class 4A State Tournament for the second year in a row. A year ago a senior-dominated Falcon ball club beat Philomath 45-37 in the third-place final, after losing to North Valley 50-45 in the championship semifinals. Smith is the only returning starter from that team.

Smith explained the Falcons’ success this year, despite the loss of nine seniors — including four starters — to graduation: “We’ve got great team chemistry, we’re unselfish, and we work hard season-after-season.”

Comparing this year’s team to last year’s, he said, “Last year’s team had more talent, but this year’s team has better chemistry, and we work just as hard.”

“This means a lot,” said Kolln. “Especially after losing nine seniors. And, with this being my senior year, for me to have an impact on us getting right back to Gill, it means a lot.”

“Everyone doubted us, and it was that doubt that drove us,” Smith said.

“We felt like every day, we were the underdogs, and that made us work harder,” said Kolln.

Kolln added, “After we lost a close game with Valley Catholic, the top team in 3A, I knew we had a chance to be good.”

La Salle (20-3) meets 11th-ranked Cottage Grove (19-5) Thursday at 8:15 p.m. in its state tournament opener. The tournament runs through Saturday at Oregon State University’s Gill Coliseum.

The Falcons’ only losses this season have come at the hands of Valley Catholic, the top-ranked team in Class 3A; cross-town rival Gladstone; and Philomath, the top-ranked team in Class 4A.

Philomath beat Cottage Grove 60-55 on Dec. 20, and the Warriors topped La Salle 45-32 on Jan. 4.

17 in a row,

and counting

While La Salle boys were getting it done in the Class 4A state boys playoffs, La Salle girls last weekend got it done in the Class 4A girls playoffs, advancing to the Class 4A Girls State Tournament with a 38-32 Friday night win over Cascade.

But the win was no cakewalk for the Falcon girls. The visiting Cougars took the air out of the ball, forcing a slow-down game, and the Cougars stayed within striking distance until the final horn.

It was a three-point game, with La Salle up 33-30, early in the fourth quarter, when Sterling Swift hit a 3-pointer and Morgan McSmith hit an outside shot to widen the gap to eight points. The Falcons then turned to a delay game of their own and hung on for the 38-32 win.

Defense was pivotal for the Falcons, who forced 19 turnovers, despite the slow pace of play.

Swift scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting to lead a balanced Falcon offensive attack. Aleah Goodman had three steals and three assists.

The win was sweet indeed for the Falcons, because it avenged losses to the Cougars in last year’s state quarterfinals and in the 2011 state final.

Swift, who was on both of those teams, says she likes her charges’ chances because this year’s team is much more balanced and deeper than the Falcon team that made the state final in 2011.

Ranked second in the state, La Salle girls (23-1) enter this year’s state tournament riding a 17-game win string. They meet La Grande tonight at 8:15 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The tournament runs through Saturday at Gill Coliseum, with the championship final set for Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

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