Forest Grove gets much-needed win over Liberty 58-52
The Forest Grove boys basketball team needed a win and they got it, defeating Liberty 58-52 Friday night, Jan. 21, at Liberty High School.
The Vikings were led by the hard-nosed play of senior post Jake Steltenpohl, along with the inspired second-half performance of Ka'ena Kaulia, who scored 13 points, eight of which came consecutively in a fourth-quarter run that turned a two-point Forest Grove deficit into a three-point Vikings lead.
"He had huge minutes," Forest Grove head coach Marc Roche said. "He's one of those guys that's pretty versatile, and we play him at different positions because of it. Tonight, he found a groove and did a great job of taking advantage of the situation, hitting some open looks, and creating for others."
Roche went on to speak to Kaulia's ability to do everything from facilitate, rebound, and take guys off the dribble, but pointed specifically to his fourth quarter scoring as a key to their win.
"I think tonight, a couple of those outside shots he knocked down were huge for us," said Roche.
Liberty looked like the team to beat early on, taking an 18-11 lead after a quarter thanks in part to the play of post Tyler Bradford. The sophomore finished with a game-high 17 points, while grabbing nine rebounds.
Falcons head coach Mike Gregory said Bradford could have put up even more impressive stats, given a call or two that didn't go his way.
"He's amazingly strong and amazingly athletic, and when he's ready to go and turns it on, he's hard to stop," the Liberty coach said. "I thought tonight he took really good and aggressive shots, but I think he got a lot of contact on some of them and wasn't getting some of the calls."
Forest Grove closed the gap early in the second quarter thanks to three early buckets by Kaulia, Tyler Rebsom and Lucas Ellington, and trailed just 28-25 at the half.
The Vikings' Ryder Davis hit consecutive threes to tie the game to start the third quarter, then Kaulia gave the visitors their first lead since 6-4 with a 3-pointer to open the game's final stanza. That lead grew to eight on back-to-back buckets by Afton Milton midway through the fourth before Liberty pulled within three, 55-52, prior to the Vikes' Trevor Cannon icing the game with free throws down the stretch.
"That was a good game for us," Roche said. "We came out flat in our league-opener, so I was pleased how we responded."
The Forest Grove coach spoke to the team's defense and energy in particular, both of which he got in spades from Steltenpohl.
"Jake always battles and is always really aggressive," Roche said. "Tonight, he did a great job of owning the boards and finishing plays defensively. The toughness he brings is incredible."
Roche said due to the on-again, off-again nature of this year's schedule as a result of the pandemic, his team has had a hard time seizing momentum. He hopes that this win will be the beginning of doing just that, and that they can continue to build on it by putting more wins in the win column.
"I think our guys just want to compete," he said. "The last few weeks we've missed games and practices, so just getting a game under our belt can only help. Everyone's going through it, but it definitely affects you. Getting this win and seeing our hard work pay off definitely gives the kids extra motivation."
Meanwhile, Gregory said the loss to the Vikings doesn't change how he feels about his team, nor what he feels they can accomplish over the remainder of the season.
"I feel great about our team," Gregory said. "This is one of the most fun groups I've coached. They love being around each other and work extremely hard for each other. It's been a joy to coach them and they're growing like crazy, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."
Forest Grove scorers included: Kaulia 13, Steltenpohl 10, Cannon 7, Austin Case 6, Rebsom 6, Milton 6, Davis 6, Ellington 4.
Liberty scorers included: Bradford 17, Keenan Frye 9, Donovan Crowder 8, Charlie Rask 6, Justin Davis 5, Zavier Womack 5, John Marugg 2.
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