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The Wildcats win the turnover battle early and take over late in the first half

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - St. Helens senior Jacob Falk goes up to score during his team's 67-49 loss to Wilsonville at Wilsonville High School on Friday.In a Northwest Oregon Conference rivalry dominated by Wilsonville the past few years, the Wildcats came out on top against St. Helens again on Friday, but it wasn't the blowout that's typified recent years.

The Lions were within three points or fewer against the Wildcats in three of Friday's four quarters, with Wilsonville ultimately pulling away to win 67-49 at Wilsonville High School.

"We didn't lose by 70," said St. Helens coach Jordan Massinger. "A couple years ago, it was a 70-point loss, and then it was a 40-, 50-, 60-point loss and this year we competed. It wasn't surprising because I feel like my guys can compete with any team."

"We played hard (and) we competed with the best team in our league," said St. Helens senior guard Trenton Minich, who led his team with 20 points on Friday. "I think we played pretty good, especially not losing our heads and letting refs or bad plays get to us. We came out and played hard. We didn't back down. If we were down 20, we'd still fight back."

With the loss, St. Helens fell to 3-4 in the NWOC (9-8 overall), while Wilsonville improved to 7-0 in league play (11-6 overall).

"I thought our defensive pressure was really good," said Wilsonville coach Chris Roche. "We probably had 25 deflections, which is double our goal for a game. Playing with that kind of intensity and activity on defense is important, and going forward, that's something we can build around. Hopefully, the offense will come along, but that side of the ball was pretty good."

The takeaways and deflections were a big part of Wilsonville's success early on Friday. Minich helped St. Helens draw first blood with a 3-pointer to get the game started, but Wilsonville answered right away.

Wilsonville's Ryan Napoli got a takeaway and dished it off to senior Caleb Larsen for an easy basket. And moments later, Larsen made a steal that ultimately set up sophomore Dakota Reber for another basket.

By the end of the first quarter, six different Wildcats had scored and Wilsonville led St. Helens led 17-14.

"Caleb Larsen was amazing pressuring the ball. He's probably one of the best in the state at it," Roche said. "I thought he was the biggest key to the game tonight. He played great. He had 10 deflections and can just go forever."

The Wilsonville defense stepped up even more in the second quarter, with Larsen making yet another takeaway to start the second stanza. On the other end of the court, Wildcat junior Jack Roche caught fire toward the end of the half, scoring 11 points in the second quarter and helping his team piece together a 19-7 edge in the period that led to a 36-21 lead at the half. Larsen had six points in the first half and two takeaways that led directly to Wilsonville baskets.

St. Helens was not totally quiet in the first half, though. Minich had 11 points in the half and sophomore Joe Rea drained a "three" to keep Wilsonville from running away entirely.

In the second half, Wilsonville extended its lead further thanks to buckets from sophomore Keegan Shivers, Roche and Larsen. Larsen continued his takeaway streak, making another steal, converting a layup and turning it into a three-point play.

The Lions didn't give up, though. They battled the Wildcats on even terms in the third quarter, were outscored just 21-18 there and trailed 57-39 entering the fourth period.

Then, in the fourth, the Lions matched Wilsonville with 10 points each, with St. Helens senior Jacob Falk going 4 for 4 on free throws, while Minich added six points in the final eight minutes.

"That was the most surprising thing because that's something we've been struggling with the last five or six games — coming out a little flat," Massinger said. "So to come out here against the toughest team we're going to play all year and match them toe to toe, I was surprised in a pleasant way."

"We come out here and want to play as hard as possible," Minich added. "It's our senior year so leave it all out on the floor and leave it for the other players coming up to make sure we have a good program."

St. Helens' efforts and improvement was not lost on Wilsonville.

"They're much better this year," Roche said. "They're big and senior-laden and they have a pretty good idea of what they want to do. I thought they did a good job of executing what they wanted to do."

Dow finished with 11 points in the loss, and senior Jacob Falk added nine more.

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