Isaac Amaral-Artharee led all scorers with 34 points to help the Rams maintain a share of first place in the Mt. Hood Conference

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Oregon City's Connor Curtis (11) looks for room to manuever around Central Catholic's Tyson Parker (23) during the first half of Friday's Mt. Hood Conference boys' basketball game.For three quarters and the first two minutes of the fourth, Oregon City's boys' basketball team matched Central Catholic blow for blow.

Then came a four-minute stretch when the Pioneers struggled to do anything right, including hold a four-point lead.

Central Catholic's Isaac Amaral-Artharee scored 11 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter to help rally the Rams to a 56-48 Mt. Hood Conference home win Friday over Oregon City.

Darius Gakwasi added nine points as the Rams (8-5, 3-0 Mt. Hood) ran their winning streak to five in a game that saw six ties and six lead changes.

"It's a big win," Central Catholic coach David Blue said. "To play a really good Oregon City team that not only is good, but is well-coached and knows what it wants to do, and for us to be able to come out and compete with them, I think that says a lot.

"We're still really young, so we're trying to build in regards to trusting one another. Tonight, we stayed together and trusted one another."

Trailing 36-33, Oregon City opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run and took a 40-36 lead on Trevor Sheldon's baseline floater with 6:15 remaining,

Central Catholic answered with a 14-2 run that started with Amaral-Artharee converting a three-point play and ended with DeRay Seamster driving the left baseline for a lay-in that gave the Rams a 50-42 lead with 2:28 left.

Oregon City's Teron Bradford hit a mid-range jumper from the left side the cut the deficit 50-47 with 1:15 to play, but that was as close as the Pioneers could get.

"It was a great team effort," Amaral-Artharee said. "Oregon City tried to fight back late, but we stayed composed and came out with the win. They're a great team, so we knew it would be tight."

Bradford led Oregon City with 21 points, Corban Remsburg finished with 10 points, and Tyler Quinsey and Sheldon added six each for the Pioneers (8-5, 2-1).

"I'm really proud of our kids. They played really hard," Oregon City coach Aaron Newkirk said. "One of the things that we've had a little bit of trouble with is playing just a little bit smarter and overcoming some of the mental errors that you can't have when you're playing a conference-champion contender on their home floor.

"You just can't make some of the mistakes that we made."

Sound strategy

Oregon City couldn't have scripted a better start to the fourth quarter as Bradford opened the scoring with a three-pointer from the right wing, Quinsey hit a short jumper in the lane, and Sheldon scored on his baseline drive, turning a three-point deficit into a 40-36 lead.

But then the Pioneers came up empty on four of their next five possessions, starting with two turnovers that helped spark Central Catholic's decisive 14-2 run.

"You have to play an almost mistake-free game to be able to score against Central," Newkirk said. "With the way they were defending, you've got to be real smart about your possessions, because you only get so many of them. Offensively, we just did not do that."

At the defensive end, Oregon City's game plan early on was to try and keep the athletic Rams from getting out in transition and hold the score down, if possible.

When Central Catholic came out of the first quarter leading 14-10, and then went to halftime with a 25-22 lead, the Pioneers were feeling pretty good about the overall pace of play and that they never trailed by more than five points in the first half.

"Central's athleticism is just unbelievable, so our No. 1 goal was to make them play against a set defense," Newkirk said. "Everything was kind of falling into our hands as far as score and time. It was right where we wanted it.

"We wanted to keep the game in the 50s, and it was in the 50s. We just missed a lot of uncharacteristic shots at the rim along with a lot of just bad decisions on offense. But defensively, the kids did great. They followed the game plan exactly how we wanted it."

Turning points

After Amaral-Artharee's three-point play cut Oregon City's lead to 40-39, the Pioneers were whistled for a double-dribble violation.

The Rams then looked to Gakwasi, the 6-foot-5 freshman, who hit a mid-range jumper from the right side to put Central on top 41-40 with 5:40 to play.

Coming out of a timeout, Oregon City threw the ball away and then Amaral-Artharee struck again as he pulled down an offensive rebound and scored to push the lead to 43-30 with 5:16 remaining.

"Isaac is tough," Newkirk said. "Any mistake we made on defense -- and there wasn't very many of them -- he made us pay."

Down the stretch, the Rams did most of their damage at the free-throw line, going 9 for 9 from the stripe in the final 4:20 to help put the game out of reach.

"Oregon City plays so hard for Coach Newkirk all the time, so we knew that they were going to come at us and they were going to compete," Blue said. "For us, when we went up and they came back and took the lead, for us to stay together, that's something that we've been building towards. I think we have a chance to be OK."

Central Catholic will look to build on Friday's win with games this week at Gresham on Tuesday and then back home against league co-leader Clackamas on Friday.

Oregon City returns home for game s Tuesday against Clackamas and Friday against Barlow.

"I know the kids are disappointed," Newkirk said. "But at the same time, we have one kid with varsity experience from last year and the kids have done a great job. I think we're going to keep getting better and I'm very optimistic about our next 11 games."

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