NHS boys lock up playoff berth with two games remaining
With a fair share of close victories coming throughout the conference season, the Newberg High School boys basketball team is now locked into a postseason appearance by securing the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Conference behind Sherwood.
While the Tigers were unable to best the Bowmen – who remain undefeated in league – coach Mark Brown's squad has a conference record of 7-3 and an overall record of 13-9 going into the final week of the season.
Newberg beat Century 68-63 on Feb. 18 before falling to Liberty 60-52 on Friday. Both contests were away games.
"We knew heading into last week that we were going on the road, which is always an extra challenge," Brown said. "Both Century and Liberty are playing for their postseason hopes and even though we've secured that we knew they'd give us their best shot. That's exactly what we got."
Brown said costly turnovers and a slow start had the Tigers down early in the Century game.
At the half, they trailed by four and were offensively out of rhythm.
But a hot shooting night – 63 percent according to Brown – buoyed the Tigers until the final stretch, when they limited the turnovers and pulled away from the Jaguars.
"Century played a very good game," Brown said. "They were out-hustling us in the first half and we were letting them dictate how the game was played. Lucky for us, we shot the ball really well and that was the only thing that kept us in it for a while."
Turnovers were the bugaboo in the Liberty game as well, as was a slow start.
A sluggish first few minutes of the contest had Newberg down 8-2 early, and while the Tigers took the lead in the third quarter, they were unable to keep it.
Coughing up the ball in key moments ended up being the difference for Newberg as it took a loss to a Liberty team hungry for a postseason berth of its own.
"We had a great team conversation in the locker room that we didn't prepare with the right mentality for that game," Brown said. "It showed in the result and we need to be locked in going forward. Credit to Liberty, but I believe we were the better team and we didn't play like it."
Two games remain before postseason play: A home game against Glencoe played Tuesday night after press time, and a home game against rival McMinnville on Friday. The teams are a combined 2-18 in conference play and the Grizzlies have yet to win a conference game, but Brown said the Tigers can't afford to overlook this week's opponents.
The results – while not impacting their league standing – may have an impact on the Tigers' overall ranking going into the 6A postseason.
A strong finish will likely mean a higher seed come playoff time, even if Newberg is all but guaranteed to go out on the road in the first round anyway.
This season was expected by many to be one of transition for Newberg, but Brown and company have defied expectations and secured the second-best record in the Pacific Conference.
They've done it by committee all season and with a fast-paced, sometimes frenetic style, and they hope to clean things up and build some momentum before the playoffs arrive.
"I'm so incredibly proud of this group," Brown said. "I think it's more fun when the expectations aren't there. An OSAA article in early November had us finishing fifth in the conference and we laugh at that – we love it because we love proving those people wrong. We want to be our best and we're excited for the postseason."
Girls still fighting for playoff bid
Despite a lackluster record in Pacific Conference play, the NHS girls basketball team is still in the hunt for an appearance in the postseason thanks to its stellar non-conference run.
The Tigers (12-10, 2-8 Pacific Conference) were ranked No. 26 in the OSAA rankings as of Tuesday morning, which would more than likely give them an at-large bid to the playoffs even though they are near the bottom of the league standings.
Last week's set of games included a much-need victory for the Tigers, who beat Century 39-32 on Feb. 18 in a defensive struggle. They followed that up with a 78-35 loss to No. 4-ranked Liberty on Friday, but a split week is progress after the team lost four consecutive games prior to the Century win.
Newberg went on the road to face Glencoe on Tuesday night and will wrap up its regular season with a home game against McMinnville on Friday after the boys finish up.
Coaches, players and fans will likely be glued to the OSAA website that night to see if their team's ranking was good enough for an at-large bid to the postseason, and who the Tigers might play in the first round.
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