Final loss hurts, but mirrors season of adversity for St. Helens boys
In a way — a cruel way — the first half of the final game of the St. Helens boys basketball season mirrored the Lions' entire season.
It was the best of times, the worst of times — all condensed into a matter of minutes, like some modern highlight video with the dead time and commercials cut out.
On Wednesday night at Bend High, there was St. Helens' 6-2 senior guard Trenton Minich smoothly sinking a 3-pointer — one of his specialties — in the opening 15 seconds.
There were the Lions stunning the host, favored Lava Bears with an 8-0 start to their Class 5A play-in game.
But at the same time, there also was Minich crumpled on the floor, the victim of a knee injury after a collision in a battle for a rebound.
And then, just like that, there was Bend making a 9-0 run and building its lead to 31-19 by halftime.
After that, there was a disconnected St. Helens five — trying to alter its rotations on the fly — struggling to hit its stride after the 3 1/2-bus ride to Central Oregon and in the face of adversity.
And so, in the end, there were the ninth-ranked Lava Bears walking off the court with a 65-42 victory and advancing to the first round of the Oregon School Activities Association playoffs, while the 22nd-ranked Lions got back on the bus, their hot-and-cold season over at 11-14.
It was that kind of season for St. Helens.
It was a season of highs for a program with little recent boys basketball season, and a season of lows caused at least in part by injuries and misfortune.
The season included many, many quarters in which the Lions showed they could play with just about anybody. It also had a few quarters that were the team's downfall — and that led to several close losses.
It was a season that will be remembered for injuries to key performers such as 6-0 senior guard Devin McCall and 5-9 senior point guard Drake Dow and, in the final game, to Minich.
The injuries exacerbated one of the biggest challenges that faced coach Jordan Massinger: a lack of depth. The Lions had simply lacked the bodies that basically every other good team in the state has on its bench, the reserves who have some seasoning and are ready to step up when someone goes down.
The early moments of Wednesday's finale at Bend showed what the Lions were capable of when they hit shots. It also showed what was prone to happen when they didn't, and when they couldn't come up with enough rebounds to give themselves second chances.
"We beat Seaside, the No. 2 4A team, and had a 23-point lead on them in the third quarter. We beat Sunset, a 6A playoff team," Massinger said, reflecting on the season. "We gave (Northwest Oregon Conference champion) Wilsonville fits in six of the eight quarters we played against them.
"When our guys fly around and share the ball and bring that energy and enthusiasm, I don't think there's a team in the state that can run us off the court.
"But a lot of times we played really well for three out of four quarters, only to have that one bad quarter cost us.
"It was just a lack of experience at winning, and not understanding it takes 32 minutes of everything you've got."
Nine of the Lions' 13 losses were by 10 points or less — with seven by six points or less, nearly all of those games coming down to the final minute, or even seconds.
Some of those tough losses came in the six-game losing streak St. Helens had to finish the season. That skid skewed the Lions' record and ranking. It included games that got away at Parkrose and at Milwaukie and at home against Sandy, all of which dropped the Lions to fifth in the NWOC and forced them to play Wednesday on the road instead of at home (where they would have been up a lower-ranked opponent).
"At Parkrose, we blew a halftime lead," Massinger said, "but if Drake Dow had been healthy (he was still coming off a severe ankle sprain), we wouldn't have lost.
"At Milwaukie (a week later, on Feb. 13) … we had no business losing that game at all."
The play-in game at Bend was a big challenge, but it looked like the Lions were going to be up to it.
For one thing, this time the St. Helens team bus made it to Bend in one piece and on time. When St. Helens played a nonleague game at Bend on Dec. 8, the bus transporting the Lions broke down, leaving the team in the cold for 3 1/2 hours. Still, St. Helens led at the half before falling, 61-44.
Another bit of Lions confidence came out of the team's final practice, on Tuesday in the St. Helens gym.
"Monday was rough. After a five-game losing streak, it was tough to get motivated. But Tuesday was one of the best practices of the year," Massinger said.
But then the injury to Minich threw a wrench into the Lions' upset plans, to say the least.
"It was tough losing Trenton," said St. Helens 6-6 senior post Jacob Falk. "When you lose a starter right at the start, that really hurts."
"A huge blow," Massinger said. "Guys didn't know where to be, so we didn't play very connected as a team after that. We were just missing something all night.
"But you've got to hand it to Bend. They have good players. They were connected and played well for 32 minutes.
"We didn't stop playing hard … but we only have so many guys. And we didn't rebound well — that would have made a big difference.
"It was a tough one."
Sophomore 6-1 guard Joe Rea led St. Helens in scoring at Bend with 14 points. Falk had 13 points.
St. Helens shot 33.3 percent from the field, while Bend hit 44.6 percent.
The Lions made 20 turnovers. The Bears committed 16.
Senior 6-7 forward Owen Wolfe led St. Helens with nine rebounds; Falk had five. Wolfe also blocked three shots.
"Our effort was good," Falk said, "but we didn't always play very smart. It was a disappointing way to end the season."