Skyhawks withstand Jesuit, take Metro League lead
Every league champion has to endure one final roadblock, a last tribulation to withstand.
In a conference made for grown men, the Metro League champ never gets away easy. It takes togetherness, toughness, teamwork and overall staying power to stand atop this league, to survive the 17-game grind and raise a banner in your home gym.
Southridge's biggest trial just so happened to be the squad that's troubled them most over the past five years — Jesuit, a team that's tormented many a Metro contender. The Crusaders were exactly the type of foil the Skyhawks expected, too, a sharpshooting, executing bunch that doesn't back down from a challenge.
But the Skyhawks have made huge headway since Jesuit jumped them 32 days ago on the road. They've developed greatly since getting beaten in by Beaverton in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs a year ago as well. This Southridge squad is on the verge of taking off to a new peak. And now they're on the doorstep of that long-awaited Metro crown.
With Jesuit breathing down their necks in the fourth quarter, Southridge summoned that sort of late-game moxie that defines league champs, getting huge scores from Bo Quinlan and Filip Fullerton as well as defensive stands from a slew of stars to put away a 64-58 win over the Crusaders at Southridge High on Tuesday night.
"This shows we're for real this year, we're not a fluke, we're out here to make history for our school," Southridge junior Brock Henry said. "We're trying to do what no other Southridge team has done. We're not just another Southridge team. We're something special. We all love each other. We're all brothers. We're family and we go out there and fight for each other."
With the win, Southridge moved into sole possession of first place in Metro with just three games to go. For a program that's never won a league title in school history, the Skyhawks can smell the finish line. But Southridge (18-3 overall, 12-1 in Metro) vows it won't get complacent.
"This sets us up for some great success, but we're not going to be handed anything, we have to go earn it every day in practice and every day on the court in the games," Southridge junior guard Zach Galvin said. "This is good fuel, knowing Jesuit is one of the best teams in Metro. We should have a lot of confidence going into the next couple of games. We have a lot of steam going ahead."
If there's a blueprint Southridge can follow for how to navigate the ebbs and flows of a white-knuckle game as the postseason draws near, Tuesday's scrum with Jesuit should be example A. Southridge senior Bradley Bickler ripped away an offensive board and banked it back home. Later, Quinlan ran down an offensive board in the right corner and passed inside to Bickler who pivoted away for a left-handed jump hook to give Southridge a 44-41 lead. Jesuit junior Aiden Williams scored twice, on a three-pointer and a lefty layup, but each bucket was countered with a Skyhawk response. Kade Hustler hammered inside for a jump hook after Williams' three and Galvin fed Fullerton while cutting full speed to the rim to give Southridge a 55-49 edge. Each time Jesuit tried to go on a game-changing run, Southridge retaliated.
"We saw Jesuit make shots and we didn't hang our heads," Galvin said. "We were just gonna go on to the next play. We never gave up. We fought hard the whole and stuck with it."
And on the next trip down Henry came out of nowhere to secure a loose defensive board and proceeded to make two at the free throw line to make it 57-49. Then Jesuit turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
"It just came down to hustle," Quinlan said. "We made a lot of extra effort plays and won the 50/50 balls."
Southridge has all of the prerequisite talents to make a deep state tournament run. Skill, size, ability, offensive firepower. The Skyhawks possesses abilities that few Class 6A teams can imitate or match up with. Southridge can bury a team with tidal waves of threes or destroy foes with incessant fast breaks that are both entertaining for fans and deflating for opponents. But to merge that dexterity and potential with a helping of defensive hardiness and down-the-home-stretch shrewd judgment as they did against the Crusaders speaks to the Skyhawks' maturation from promising upstart to almost Metro champs.
"I think it just shows that we can grind out games, stay in it, play in it and finish it at the end," Henry said. "I don't think we've had a game like that the whole season. It was a good show of our team's strengths and our willpower."
The first 29 minutes of the league showdown were nip-and-tuck. Jesuit's deadly quiver outside marksmen Williams, Matt Lang and Joe Wall combined to make five first-half threes and the Crusaders' patient motion offense churned out eight assists for a 30-26 halftime lead. But Southridge's defense turned up the intensity, forcing a handful of Jesuit misses to begin the second half. Meanwhile, Henry, Quinlan, Galvin and Fullerton all stepped to the forefront and played like stars, shouldering the scoring load at different times. Fullerton's four-point play gave Southridge a 39-36 lead in the third. Henry made a pull-up three in transition, then Fullerton rotated over from his helpside position and swatted away a Crusader drive that triggered a one-man Skyhawk fast break bucket from Galvin that regained a 33-32 lead. And Henry used his wicked fast first step to get by his man and Jesuit's stationary defender around the rim for a finger roll scoop. Henry scored nine of his 14 points in the second half while Quinlan and Galvin cooly handled the Crusaders' defensive pressure in the backcourt and ran the offense with unflappable poise. As Jesuit ratcheted up the defense, just as it did back on Jan. 5 to help erase an 18-point deficit against Southridge, the Skyhawks stayed unified, fully aware the Crusaders were essentially the only obstacle left standing in their way of a league christening.
"In the back our minds I think we were thinking about all of the other times we'd lost to Jesuit in either close games or blowouts and we knew it wasn't going to happen this time," Henry said. "We were getting this one and we want this league title. That's what motivated us down the stretch. Jesuit wasn't going to stop being them. They weren't going to stop playing, so we couldn't either."
Fullerton led Southridge with a game-high 18 points. Williams had 17 for Jesuit and Lang added 13. The Skyhawks finished with four double-digit scorers: Fullerton, Henry, Quinlan (12) and Galvin (11). No. 7 Jesuit is 15-5 overall and 10-2 in Metro with a road game against Westview next on the docket.