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Sophomore point guard Jackson Shelstad scores 34 points as the Lions open with an 87-71 win over the reigning TRL champions.

COURTESY PHOTO: JON OLSON - West Linn's Jackson Shelstad drives between Lake Oswego's Carson Reno (right) and Christian Rowell.
Aside from the sparsely populated gym, West Linn's boys basketball team couldn't have asked for much more from its opener against visiting Lake Oswego on Monday, May 17.

West Linn sophomore point guard Jackson Shelstad showed what the buzz is all about with 34 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals. Lion junior guard Zeke Viuhkola came through with a career-high 29 points and junior forward Mason VanBeenen was a defensive force with seven blocked shots.

Most importantly, the Lions coasted to an 87-71 win over the three-time reigning Three Rivers League champion Lakers, ending a five-game losing streak to their rival.

"They've been on us for the last few years," Shelstad said. "We came out ready and it showed. This was a good win for us."

West Linn coach Eric Viuhkola, Zeke's father, liked what he saw.

"We were really, really rusty, but I thought we played well," he said. "I liked our aggressiveness. Obviously, Jackson is so dynamic, (and) I thought Mason and Zeke played really well."

Last year, the Lions and Lakers both qualified for the Class 6A state tournament before the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The teams are much different this season, though, with each returning just one starter.

Fortunately for West Linn, that returning starter is Shelstad, whose long list of scholarship offers includes Arizona State, Stanford, Houston, Texas Tech and Washington State. Shelstad was impressive as a 5-foot-10, 145-pound freshman, and now that he has grown to 6-0 and 170, he has taken it up a notch.

"I think I've improved a lot," Shelstad said. "Obviously, I've still got a long ways to go. I got a lot stronger. I grew a little bit. I got my shot more consistent, my range deeper. It's a different game this year. I feel like the bigger kind of guy. I was getting bullied a little bit last year."

Shelstad set the tone Monday, hitting two three-pointers and scoring his team's first nine points as the Lions grabbed a 9-1 lead. He finished 12 of 23 from the field, including 5 of 7 from three-point range.

It was the kind of performance that invites comparisons to Payton Pritchard, who led the Lions to four state titles before going on to play at Oregon and the Boston Celtics.

"He's always had to live up to that 'next Payton,' whatever, all that, but he's different," Lake Oswego coach Marshall Cho said. "Jackson's got different attributes to his game that I think people are going to find out. But there's also a lot of similarities. Like, he's going to shoot from NBA range. No matter what I tell my young guys, they're just not accustomed to a player with that kind of skillset."

Shelstad said he isn't going to rest on the hype.

"It's a chip on my shoulder," Shelstad said. "I know it puts a target on my back, but I know I'm going to have to come out every night and just give it my all, and take no plays off. It just fuels me. It makes me want to go harder so I like it."

Zeke Viuhkola, who came off the bench last season, showed that he is ready to carry a heavier load by making 10 of 13 shots. He was 5 of 6 on three-pointers, including back-to-back deep bombs in the third quarter that extended a seven-point halftime lead to 22.

"Last year I was definitely more of a role guy, and I knew coming into this year I had to be a big part of this team and really help out as much as possible," he said.

Eric Viuhkola said that his son and Shelstad have been working out four times a week with former NBA guard Steve Blake.

"And they go to the same trainer," the coach said. "Both of them put a bunch of muscle on over the offseason. Zeke's probably gained 15 pounds. I'm really proud of him. He's got the curse of the Viuhkola bloodlines, but he's overcoming it with a lot of hard work."

Lake Oswego suffered a setback one minute into the game when 6-5 senior forward Trace Salton, the only returning starter, was ejected after getting tangled with West Linn senior Jake Hedberg in a loose-ball scramble. The Lakers rallied from a 16-1 deficit to get within 37-35 in the second quarter, but without Salton, they couldn't sustain their surge.

"Obviously, you've got a first-team all-state guy that goes out, that's going to be a huge factor," Eric Viuhkola said. "But I thought we were playing well and aggressive even when that happened. I know that Trace playing would've been a much tougher game."

Junior guard Marcus Lee made four three-pointers and scored 20 points for Lake Oswego, which also got four three-pointers and 15 points from senior Grayden Smith and 14 points from sophomore Max Archambo.

Cho chalked up the loss as a learning experience.

"It's a young group, and to expect them to show the kind of intelligence that's necessary to compete on a floor like this with Jackson Shelstad running amok, that's a lot to ask," Cho said. "But I think they grew up today."

West Linn visits Lake Oswego for a rematch June 3.

Jerry Ulmer writes for OSAAtoday.

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