Jefferson defeats Churchill 69-64 to claim state 5A title

by: COURTESY OF IVAR VONG - Jefferson coach Pat Strickland cuts the final piece of the net after the Democrats 69-64 victory over Churchill.EUGENE — Someday it may be just another box score and banner.

But Saturday’s Class 5A championship game was more than that for Jefferson High coach Pat Strickland and the Democrats.

Strickland suspended six players for “conduct detrimental to the team,” but the Demos still managed to win a wild state final 69-64 over Churchill at Eugene’s Matthew Knight Arena.

“It was horrible,” Strickland said. “It was shocking.”

Jefferson athletic director Jacque Sage said the decision was Strickland’s alone.

“I wasn’t involved in the last-minute stuff,” Sage said. “So I don’t know the total logistics of it. There was a lot of stuff going on right down to the last few minutes. It was really devastating.”

Jefferson was the No. 1-ranked team in the state going into the title game. The Demos’ only loss was in the Les Schwab Invitational to Rainer Beach (Wash.). Jefferson had beaten Churchill 63-59 in the 2013 state final and again in this season’s Schwab 67-55.

But the Demos had struggled in the state playoffs, even with their full roster. Jefferson won by only four points against Springfield, two against Wilsonville, and six against West Albany.

It was not the possibility of losing the state championship game that bothered Strickland the most, though.

“I was upset for the players who were suspended,” Strickland said. “I was upset for the players who were playing. I was upset for the program and the community.”

As he ate dinner at Olive Garden before Saturday’s championship game, Strickland broke down crying. He had to step out of the restaurant and call his wife just to hear a friendly voice.

“She calmed me down,” he said.

by: COURTESY OF IVAR VONG - Point guard Kadeem Strickland (left) of Jefferson goes to the basket in the Class 5A championship win against Churchill, and coach Pat Strickland (right) cuts the final piece of the net after the Democrats 69-64 victory.The remaining six Demos — Silas Melson, Kadeem Strickland, Devaunte Paschal, Dario Papa-Vicente, Quintus Hall Jr. and Geno West (who came off the bench) — came together before the Churchill game.

“These guys made a pact in the locker room that they were going to stick together and we were going to get it for the six guys who weren’t there,” Strickland said.

In a sign of unity, the six eligible players walked onto the court for warm-ups with their arms interlocked

“It’s my team, I love them all,” said senior guard Melson. “I talked to them (the suspended players) in the hotel room when they found out they weren’t going to come to the game. But I couldn’t let it get to my head. Even though we only had six players, we had to show out.”

The Demos built a 24-point lead in the first half.

“It shows we can all play hard and give it all we’ve got,” said Kadeem Strickland, a junior point guard who finished with 18 points. “We had to dig deep.”

The lead crumbled in the third quarter and was only

two points late in the fourth quarter.

“We were fatigued,” Strickland said. “They (Churchill) got a little momentum. The crowd was behind them, and they were juiced.”

Jefferson somehow found the will to hold on and claim their fifth state title in the past seven years.

“Our heart is through the roof,” said Melson, who scored a game-high 24 points.

While it was a brutal lesson to have to teach his players, Strickland was confident he made the right decision. 

“Some young guys made some foolish decisions and suffered the consequences,” he said. “I’m pretty sure those guys will learn. They all cried their eyes out. It’s a life lesson.”

Sage said Strickland winning the state championship as well as having to make the most difficult decision of his basketball career showed not only who he is as a coach, but also who he is as a man.

“He’s a heck of a coach,” Sage said. “He’s a heck of a man.”

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