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Mavericks won 21 games, took second in Metro League, hosted two playoff games this year

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside junior point guard Sammy Cohen was a spark in the second half against West Linn.

Once West Linn's maelstrom of three-pointers began raining down on Mountainside in the first quarter of the Class 6A second round, the stream never ceased.

Streaky marksmen who showed rickety strokes repeatedly on film, morphed into flamethrowers. Average outside shooters turned into swaggering Steph Curry clones, mouthpiece hanging out and all. Youngsters who one would assume might shrink in front of a sellout crowd were pulling up from the midcourt logo a la Dame Lillard for triples.

Of all the simulations that could possibly play out for Mountainside, West Linn making eight out 11 first-half three-pointers was not one of them. Yet, as Lion freshman Jackson Shelstad swished a half-court trey at the first period buzzer, a stunned Maverick squad who worked so hard to acquire homecourt advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs was staring down the barrel of a 28-15 first-quarter deficit, one that ballooned to 38-20 at the half. To make matters worse, Mountainside made just one its eight first-half three-point looks.

Expectedly, the Mavericks fought to stay alive and made it a game for the big crowd on hand, giving the fans plenty of joyful moments, more than enough to stick around. But ultimately, that early deficit was too much to overcome. Mountainside never closed within single digits and lost the second-round clash, 68-50, at Mountainside High School on March 7, ending its season just a game short of the Chiles Center, site of the elite eight.

"We came out ready to play but it's hard to climb back against such a high caliber team," Mountainside senior wing Connor McClean said. "We're two good programs, but when you start so cold like that it's hard to come back. It turned the tide of the game. We scrapped all game to get it back, but we ran out of time."

West Linn's hot shooting spree was reminiscent of the Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Jaydon Grant days of old when the Lions could bury teams with aerial displays from deep. The difference was this season's outburst seemingly came out of nowhere. The Lions, as scouted by many across the state, were skilled, cohesive, well-coached and adept off the dribble and in transition. Knockdown shooting was far down their list of strengths. But against Mountainside the floodgates opened up and any scheme the Maverick coaching staff had so carefully crafted went out the glass windows surrounding The Stables as the Lions laced the nets. West Linn only made one three in the second half, but by then the damage was done.

"Respect to them for hitting those shots, but everybody has those 'On' days and it's a little frustrating to have an 'Off' day when they're on," McClean said. "Their big-time players were hitting big-time shots. We were playing pretty good defense, weren't giving them too many open looks, but if they got any room, they were knocking them down."

Mountainside didn't press or get out of character offensively when West Linn went on its rampage. Yet, it felt like there was an invisible cover on top of the Mavericks' rim as shots spun in and out, hit the corners off the glass but didn't drop or open looks just didn't find the net. Each miss, every Maverick turnover seemed to be countered with a Lion three that splashed through the hoop without hitting the rim.

"Our shot selection was really smart," McClean said. "Nobody was trying to force anything. We were just trying to play as a team, keep our composure. But it's hard when no one's shot is going in. You kind of losing your confidence. We tried to stay with our gameplan."

In the second half, Sammy Cohen was a sparkplug with his creative playmaking. McClean was the physical defensive enforcer, checking every box on the stat sheet. Nzube Mekkam and Nate Mouzong helped muzzle Shelstad, who scored 14 points, dished out four assists and grabbed four first quarter boards. Mouzong's drive to the rim brought the Mavericks within 54-43 with 5:02 to go. Grayson Rowell was making threes from the volleyball line and driving to the rim with reckless abandon. The senior's and-one three-point play made it 54-41 in the fourth. Senior Bennett Giebels showed off his unique, tough-to-check inside-outside game en route to a team-high 18 points and eight boards. Senior forward Andrew Ingalls grabbed 10 boards inside and chipped in seven points.

"All season we've been working hard, busting our (tails) in this gym and bringing it every day for the community," McClean said. "It's not just for us that we're playing for. We're playing for the community and the future of the program. Every moment we're out there we're giving it our all. We had a unique opportunity to create a legacy here because it's a brand-new school. From the beginning of the year, we talked about being the team that worked harder than any other. I thought we did that day in and day out and that showed tonight. The outcome didn't go our way, but we stayed true to ourselves."

In a year, Mountainside went from winning just six games and missing the playoffs completely to finishing second in the Metro League, winning 21 games and hosting two postseason games. McClean and Giebels were huge boons transferring in from Southridge and Beaverton, infusing talent to an already promising starting lineup. This team, with head coach Dustin Hewitt hopefully at the helm for the long haul, helped lay the foundation for future groups of young Mavericks to come. There will be plenty more home playoff games, more big crowds and most likely banners of all kinds coming down from the rafters. Young players in the pipeline are ready to pop. Cohen, Mouzong and Dezman Baker should return in the backcourt next year, giving the Mavericks the best trio of guards in Metro. Rowell's younger brother, Christian, is a promising 6-foot-6 sophomore who was brought up to the varsity team for the playoff run as was Zac Brown. Whatever transpires in the future can be traced back to this 2019-20 team that put Mountainside on the fast track to state relevancy.

"We decided we had a team that could go really far," McClean said. "We decided that early and worked hard for it. It was a huge turnaround and everyone just buying in contributed to that. The community we have here is great and the more success we have breeds more success for future generations. Who knows, maybe next year I'll get to watch the teammates that I leave behind play at Chiles?"

West Linn improved to 17-9 overall and won a berth in the state tournament. Lion senior guard Micah Garrett and Jackson Shelstad scored 18 points each to lead the Lions, while senior guard Bryson Crockett added 13 in the victory. West Linn will open play at state against No. 1 Jesuit (22-4 overall after winning the Metro League) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside senior point guard Nzube Mekkam helped keep West Linn star Jackson Shelstad in check in the second half.

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