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The Vikings build an early 15 point lead, then hang-on as the Jaguars miss two point-blank attempts to tie it at the end.

STAFF PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's J.J. Buehler drives around a Century's Edy Essien (30) during the Vikings' game against the Jaguars Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Century High School.Someone had to lose. In this case it was the Century Jaguars, whose final attempt to even the score in the waning seconds of their game against Forest Grove rolled in and ultimately out of the cylinder as time expired, ending in a 49-47 Viking win Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Century High School.

The Jags fell behind 17-2 after a quarter, but battled back to take the lead midway through the fourth, then after the Vikings had retaken the lead in the final 30 seconds, Century's Jospin Mugisha missed a runner in the lane and Edy Essien's last second put-back painfully rimmed-out as the final buzzer sounded, leaving the Jags on the wrong end of a second consecutive one possession defeat.

"We had a timeout, but we figured if we had it in the open court we'd get as good of shot as ever," said Century head coach Scott Kellar. "Jospin went to the basket hard and there could've been some contact, then we got a good follow-up that just didn't go, so there's nothing I could've drawn-up that would've resulted in much better. I like those guys in that situation."

With the loss, Century fell to 3-2 in conference play and alone in fourth place in the Pacific Conference. Meanwhile, Forest Grove (4-1, 14-3) won their third straight since a Jan. 11 loss to league-leading Sherwood. But despite the win, it wasn't all roses for the Vikings who nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 15 point second quarter lead.

"I thought we came out in the first half and dominated, and in the second half we got a little complacent," said Forest Grove's Guy Littlefield. "Century's a team in our league that's already made some noise, so for whatever reason I think we may have underestimated them a bit. They're a good team."

But while the Vikings lamented what almost was, Kellar was proud of his team's effort in spite of falling just a bit short.

"I thought we showed a ton of resiliency considering the way we got started," said the coach. "They kind of overpowered us physically and got whatever they wanted offensively. So if you'd have told me we'd have the ball with a one point lead with 30 seconds left, considering all of that, it shows a lot of character."

Forest Grove built their first quarter lead through a nice combination of inside and outside play, getting scoring from six different players, including seven points from senior post Henry Tonges. Century however began their comeback in the second, cutting the Vikings' lead to just nine on a Chance Sparks basket just before halftime. The surge continued immediately in the third when Essien hit three three-pointers, the last of which tied the game 27-27, completing what seemed like an unlikely comeback. Kellar however saw it differently, and credited his kids for their response rather than anything schematically cooked up by he and his coaching staff.

"Offensively we got a little more aggressive, picking up our tempo and getting into the lane a little more," Kellar said. "I also think we just got tougher defensively. I thought Jospin did a good job keeping Littlefield out of the lane and they had a stretch where they didn't shoot it very well, and we felt rather fortunate to only be down nine at the half, then the kids did the rest."

Littlefield scored four straight to end the third quarter, then when the Vikings' James Irvine hit a three to open the fourth, Forest Grove led 39-32 and things appeared headed back in the Vikings' direction. However five consecutive Jaguar points cut the lead to three, then Ikin Chan tied it with a three-pointer of his own, leaving the two teams with four minutes to decide the winner.

STAFF PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Century's Chance Sparks (left) posts up Forest Grove's James Irvine during the Jaguars' game against the Vikings Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Century High School.Essien and Littlefield then traded baskets, and following a Century defensive stop, Mugisha gave the Jags their first lead with an aggressive finish at the rim to put Century ahead 44-42. Yet Forest Grove responded, and did so by way of an unusual offensive source. Post and primarily defensive presence, Ayden Purcell, scored to tie the game 44-44, then after Mugisha answered with one of two free throws, Purcell scored again, this time as part of a designed play that allowed the senior to score from the block to put the Viks ahead 46-45.

"It was definitely nice to get that look because that's usually not what I'm in there for, but it was nice that they had the confidence in me to put the ball in the hoop," said Purcell. "It felt good, especially since I missed on that same opportunity earlier."

Chan gave Century the lead back on their subsequent possession, then Tonges tipped-in a Forest Grove miss with 26 seconds remaining to put the Vikings up one. After a Jaguars miss, Forest Grove's Eli Leto made one of two free throws with 12 seconds to go, setting up the final failed Jaguars possession and ending what was undoubtedly an entertaining, yet heartbreaking game for Century.

"They're hurting," said Kellar about his team who's now lost their last two games by a total of four points. "Liberty outplayed us in our last game and Forest Grove did too for a stretch, but we were two plays away from being 5-0 with a team people didn't expect much from. But these guys are fighters and I have no doubt as to what I'm going to get from them every day."

And how do the Vikings feel about a game they were in some ways fortunate to hang-on to? Littlefield communicated that ultimately a win is a win. But while somewhat disappointed in nearly giving away a game that at one time seemed well in hand, he also lauded his teammates for stepping up when the game was on the line.

"It gives us so much confidence going forward, seeing those guys do what they did," he said. "Those were big-time plays they made and that'll stick in our heads when were in similar positions down the road."

Littlefield led Forest Grove with 15 points, while Tonges added 12 and Purcell tallied eight while grabbing nine rebounds.

Century was led by Essien who scored 15 points, while Sparks added 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Vikings will host Liberty this Friday, Jan. 25, at 5:45 p.m. at Forest Grove High School.

The Jaguars have Friday off and will next play at first place Sherwood, Jan. 30, at 5:45 p.m. at Sherwood High School.


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