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The Gladiators improve to 8-1 in conference play, seal up 2022 Tri-Valley title.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Gladstone junior Cohen Daves goes up to score late in his team's 43-41 win over Molalla at Gladstone High School on Friday, Feb. 18.The Gladstone boys basketball team had Molalla right where it wanted it.

The Gladiators led after the first quarter, after the second and boosted their lead to seven points midway through the third.

But the Indians took over to lead by five midway through the fourth before Gladstone rallied to win 43-41 in the final minutes.

"They made a couple shots that made it a really close game — made it way too close of a game, actually," said Gladstone senior post Ricky White, who finished with eight points (on 3 of 5 shooting from the field and a 2 of 5 day at the foul line), along with 13 rebounds, one steal and one assist. "All we had to do was just lock up. Our defense was great at the end."

"I got scared there for a second — we just got careless — but I knew we were going to pull through," said senior guard Cory Rather, who added 15 points (on 5 of 8 shooting from the field, including two 3-pointers and a 3 of 4 day at the foul line), along with five rebounds, one assist and one block. "We rallied back."

With the win, the team's seventh straight, Gladstone improved to 8-1 in Tri-Valley Conference play, 14-6 overall and sealed up the TVC title. Molalla — which lost to Gladstone 60-56 in the two teams' first meeting — fell for the third straight time and dropped to 4-5 in TVC play and 10-10 overall.

"We just had to stay settled and do our jobs, and I think we did," said Molalla sophomore forward Jack Davies, who led his team with 15 points (on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and a 3 of 6 day at the foul line), along with seven rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals. "We stayed very under control. I think we've got to be proud of our defense and how we played through four quarters. We just didn't execute at the end."

"All we wanted to do was play strong, play hard," added junior guard/forward Caden Cox, who had 10 points (on 3 of 12 shooting from the field, including one 3-pointer and a 3 of 6 day at the foul line), along with two steals, two rebounds and one assist. "We played great defense all around, and on offense, we were fighting down low for every single board. We just kept trying and trying and trying and that's what made the difference."

The Gladiators — celebrating their senior night — started fast and grabbed an 11-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Their defense set the pace early, forcing six Molalla turnovers and holding the Indians to 0 for 8 shooting from the field in the first eight minutes.

Gladstone pushed its lead to 14-3 when junior Carver Mellema hit a pull-up 3-pointer at the start of the second quarter and still led 16-8 when senior Ayden Hensley took a Rather pass and scored on the fast break midway through the frame.

But Molalla answered with six straight points — four from Davies — to close within 16-14 on a Davies jumpshot assisted by junior Jacob Watson before settling for an 18-14 deficit at halftime.

Rather hit a pair of "threes" in the first half of the third quarter — the second off a pass from junior Jayden Cummins — to keep the Gladstone lead at 24-17, but the Indians weren't done. Not by a long shot.

Molalla outscored Gladstone 16-4 over the next 5:25 to push ahead 33-28 when Watson scored on the fast break with 7:17 to go in the fourth quarter. Cox led the way in that stretch, hitting 3 of 4 shots (including a 3-pointer) in just 2:10, while Davies added another four.

The Indians still led by five — at 36-31 with 4:38 left to play — but couldn't hold it down the stretch. From there, Mellema hit a "three," White scored inside and hit two free throws, and junior guard Cohen Daves followed with the play of the game.

With the score tied 38-38 in the final minute, Daves made a steal near midcourt, raced to the Molalla basket and hit a hanging left-handed shot between two defenders to give his team the lead for good at 40-38 with 32 seconds remaining.

"It's a good rivalry," Daves said. "There was a lot of trash talking both ways. That's just how it is. I'm just really glad we came back and got the 'W.'"

"As soon as I saw Cohen steal that, I knew," Rather said. "He scored and I was like, 'We have this in the bag.'"

Rather then hit 3 of 4 foul shots on the game's next-to-last possession to seal the win.

Despite the loss, the Indians were proud of their efforts.

"We haven't beaten them in a long time," Davies said. "We came into it wanting to kick their (tails). We wanted to come in and ruin their senior night and make it our good night."

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