It's early, but that was a big game.
The Forest Grove and Sherwood boys battled for four quarters, but in the end, despite a key early injury, the Bowmen outlasted the Vikings for a 59-55 victory, Friday, Jan. 11, in front of a raucous crowd at Forest Grove High School.
In a game that saw eight lead changes in the second half, it came down to a couple big misses and one really big rebound, and a Sherwood team that may have just wanted it a little more down the stretch.
"I felt like throughout the game they got the bulk of those fifty/fifty balls," said Sherwood head coach Rahim Tufts. "They were a little tougher and more physical than us, so over that last few minutes our focus was to win those balls, be more physical, be tougher, and I feel like we did that. We got in the passing lanes, got some deflections, got some stops, and every single person was rebounding and boxing out."
And there was no bigger rebound than the last.
With Sherwood leading 56-55 with just under four seconds on the clock, the Bowmen's Blake Jensen was at the free throw line shooting two. The 6-foot-6 junior post made the first, but then with the rest of his team on the other end of the floor preparing to defend the Vikings' final effort, Jensen missed the second, but managed to grab the rebound and finish a whirlybird put-back in the final seconds to seal what was a mammoth road win for the visitors.
"That was crazy," Jensen said. "I knew it was coming off, so I figured I might as well crash. We didn't have any guys down there blocking out, so they probably didn't think they needed to block out and I was able to get to it."
His coach was both amused and surprised by the play, but ultimately appreciated what capped an awfully good basketball game.
"I was just laughing, because how often do you see the shooter get that ball and make a little spinning shot like that," said a chuckling Tufts. "The rebound was probably enough, but that was a fun way to finish it."
Forest Grove head coach Greg Evers wasn't as amused by it, but even in defeat appreciated the night as whole opposed to looking only at the end.
"In hindsight pulling their guys off the line was probably the best thing they could've done, because it didn't make us worry about blocking out," said the coach. "But you've just got to block out in that scenario. It was just a bad way to end a pretty good night."
And it was a good night for the Viks, despite the loss.
Forest Grove was led by sophomore Braden Hudgins who finished the night with 22 points and four rebounds, including five three-pointers. Evers said the 6-foot-5 wing had been struggling of late with his outside shot, but the coach told him before the game that this was going to be the night he broke out — and he was right.
"I told him (Hudgins) before the game that he was going for double figures tonight," Evers said. 'He's been struggling, but tonight he was on and it was good to see him get out of that funk."
Sherwood jumped-out to an early 8-3 lead thanks to the hot hand of Tyler Hix, who made two three-pointers in the first two minutes. The Bowmen rode that wave to a 17-10 lead after one quarter, then made it 20-10 to start the second when senior captain Braden Thorn immediately hit a three at the outset. Shortly thereafter Thorn left the game with an apparent ankle injury, and the Vikings wasted little time taking advantage of his absence. Hudgins hit three consecutive threes to cut the lead to five, then following a fourth three by teammate Adison Emerick, senior Henry Tonges tied the game with a thunderous onehanded dunk that brought the Viking faithful to their feet.
The Bowmen took a 31-30 lead to the half, then the two teams traded blows like a couple of heavyweight prize fighters throughout the third quarter, with Forest Grove using a late run sparked by standout point guard Guy Littlefield to take a 48-43 lead before Hix nailed a 25-foot buzzer-beater, to cut the lead to two heading to the fourth and final stanza.
"Defensively, we did some good things in that third quarter," said Evers. "But we let number three (Hix) get loose a bit at the end, which isn't hard to do because he's open as soon as he steps in the gym."
Hudgins opened the fourth quarter with a basket to put the Vikings ahead 50-46, but a quick score by Jensen, followed by another Hix three again put the Bowmen in front by one. That one point lead became four shortly after when Jensen completed a three-point play the old fashioned way, but Emerick hit pay dirt from beyond the arc on Forest Grove's next trip down, then Hudgins gave them back the lead, 55-54, with a point blank finish with just over two minutes left on the clock.
"It was a gritty game and I thought our kids played hard and really tough to get that lead," Evers said. "We were right there."
Unfortunately however for the Viks, Sherwood sophomore Asher Krauel took back the lead with a basket with 1:49 left. Over the next minute of play, neither team could muster much offensively and Sherwood missed a couple golden opportunities to seal the deal at the free throw line, but Forest Grove missed two quality looks at three-pointers inside of thirty seconds, setting up Jensen's free throws and ending what was for all intents and purposes a pretty darn good Pacific Conference battle.
"We haven't been playing our best of late, so this was encouraging," said Evers. "It was nice to see us come out and fight against a team that's legitimate."
Littlefield agreed with his coach regarding the team's effort in defeat.
"When we went to the locker room, of course we we're disappointed, but we held our heads high," Littlefield said. "I think we played well and we had our chances, it just wasn't our night."
Meanwhile, Sherwood — obviously — was delighted with the road win.
"Forest Grove is really well coached, they shot it well, and they execute their stuff really well," said Tufts. "One of our best players went down with an injury and we told the guys, every game is a dogfight in league play, and to get one on the road feels really good."
Thorn, who never returned with his ankle injury, probably summed it up best for the Bowmen.
"It was fun to watch," he said. "It was hard not being in a game that I thought my team could use me, but I think we had guys step up and do what they needed to do to get a W."
In addition to Hudgins, Forest Grove was led by Emerick who had three three-pointers for nine points, and Littlefield added eight points and five rebounds.
Sherwood was led by Hix who finished with 16 points, while Jensen tallied 10 points and six boards, Krauel had eight points, and Charlie Bulfinch added eight points and five rebounds.
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