After finishing the season strong by winning eight of its final nine games, Newberg boys basketball entered a Tuesday night playoff matchup with Grant feeling confident and prepared to take on the defending 6A state champions.
The Tigers (13-11, 8-4 Pacific Conference) were the No. 27 seed, facing the No. 6 Generals (19-6, 15-1 Portland Interscholastic League). The game was played Tuesday night after press time, with full coverage available Wednesday afternoon on www.NewbergGraphic.com.
NHS coach Mark Brown said on Monday he liked where his team was at.
The momentum built in the home stretch of the Tigers' conference schedule gave him hope as a tall task loomed in the postseason.
The Generals have two of the best players in the state in senior guards Aaron Deloney and Ty Rankin. Containing them and keeping the game at a slower pace were the keys to remaining competitive, according to Brown.
"We know we will have our hands full, but there are opportunities where we can control aspects of the game," Brown said. "We like to play a much more controlled tempo, possession for possession type game, and they like to get up and run, so we have to dictate the tempo in order to win."
Some of the players on the team were around the last time Newberg hosted a home playoff game, but none of them have been in this kind of environment before. The crowd, Brown said, is loud at Grant and he anticipated it would be particularly raucous for playoff basketball.
Ignoring the literal and figurative noise was the Tigers' focus in the practices leading up to their playoff opener. Brown was confident in his team's ability to handle pressure.
"To go into a top 10 team's house in the playoffs, it's going to be a big time game," he said. "These guys – even if they haven't been in this situation before – have proven that they're ready for it."
Regardless of Tuesday's result, Brown said his team would learn from the experience. It would be great, he said, to pull off the upset – and he believes the Tigers are capable – but the lessons learned in a loss could also be beneficial to their younger players.
"We've got a good group of younger kids who we expect to be around in the next year or two, so hopefully we can learn and grow from this experience regardless of the outcome," Brown said. "They know what it takes to get there and to be prepared."
What could potentially win the game for Newberg is its senior leaders Alex Jaczko and Caleb Muthiah. They are the two standouts in a senior class of four, constantly keeping their teammates focused, Brown said.
The team's chemistry could also be an asset in the event the Tigers keep the game close. In the days leading up to the game, senior leadership and team chemistry were on Brown's mind as he prepared for the significant challenge ahead.
"Our senior leadership has been outstanding this year," he said. "Alex and Caleb have led by example and held teammates accountable while setting the tone. They are two of the hardest workers and it's raised the level of focus and desire to prepare among the rest of the team.
"No matter what happens, I am going to miss this group of guys and just how close they were."