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Kerry Eggers on Sports: State title aspirations end with cancellation of OSAA Class 6A tournament

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlow coach Tom Johnson (left) and senior Jesse White are among those heartbroken by the cancellation of the state basketball tournaments.From the world-comes-tumbling-down department, consider coaches of the teams that advanced to the various state high school basketball tournaments.

Due to precautions by the Oregon School Activities Association regarding the coronavirus, their seasons are over, just like those of just about every professional and college team in the country.

Two of the coaches in the 6A boys tournament — Jefferson's Pat Strickland and Barlow's Tom Johnson — were scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in a quarterfinal at Chiles Center. At about 11 a.m., Thursday, coaches and players from both teams learned their seasons are over.

"It's disheartening," said Johnson, in his 34th season as Barlow's head coach. "That's about the only appropriate word I can think of right now."

"I'm feeling a lot of emotions," said Strickland, who has been at the Jefferson helm for 12 years. "Sad. Mad. Stunned. A little bit of everything."

"I really feel bad for the kids," Johnson added. "And not just our kids — all the kids on the teams who have worked so hard to get here. It's an empty feeling right now."

Jefferson came into the tournament ranked third in state, Barlow sixth. The Democrats have won five state titles — four at the 5A level — under Strickland's watch. Johnson has never won a state crown but has reached the semifinals four times, including a runner-up finish in 1996.

This year's team, led by senior guards Jesse White and Evan Inglesby, might have been the best Johnson has had at Barlow. The 6-1 White, who will play next season at Western Oregon, recently passed Payton Pritchard to become the No. 5 career scorer in Oregon big-school history. The 6-4 Inglesby, who averaged 20.5 points this season, is a preferred walk-on next season at Gonzaga. White is Barlow's all-time leading scorer; Inglesby is third.

"We really thought we had a chance to win it all," Johnson said. "On any given night, we're putting the two best players on the court, and we have other guys who have played extremely well the last month."

Barlow's backcourt pair might not have been the two best players on the court Thursday at Chiles. Jefferson has size, talent and at least four Division I players, including 6-7 freshman Marquis Cook, already getting looks from college coaches across the country. Cook's parents are 6-4 and 6-2.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pat Strickland"He probably still has some more growth in him," Strickland said. "Reminds me of (ex-Democrat) Terrence Jones in that way. Marquis is a special kid, a kid who has a high ceiling, cerebral both on and off the court. He has great leadership qualities and, on the court, he can do it all.

"Jones and (Terrence) Ross didn't even play varsity for us as a freshman. Marquis is the best freshman I've seen in Oregon since Kevin Love."

Barlow beat Jefferson 99-95 on Dec. 7 in the third game of the 2018-19 season.

"White dropped 40 (points) on us in the loss," Strickland said. "We were looking for some revenge."

"Likewise, we were excited to play them," said Johnson, whose Bruins had won 15 straight games going into the tournament. "They're so talented."

On Tuesday, the Democrats and Bruins still expected to be able to play in front of their fans at Chiles. By Wednesday night, the scenario had changed. The game would be played, but before only essential personnel.

"No spectators, including family," said Strickland, who apprised his players of the situation during a team dinner at Olive Garden. "The guys were shocked about that."

Thursday morning, the news got worse. By the time they convened for lunch at Red Robin, everybody knew.

"We thought it was going to trickle that way, because things were happening so fast everywhere," Strickland said. "With all the stuff developing this morning — college tournaments canceling, pro leagues canceling — we kind of knew it was coming. Once we saw the 5A tournament in Corvallis was canceled, we knew we were next.

"So we were somewhat prepared, but it was still a blow. My players are devastated."

Johnson had scheduled an after-school meeting Thursday with his players, but they knew the score.

"Social media moves faster than I do," he said. "I was getting texts from the guys almost immediately."

For the seniors, there is no tomorrow. Their final chance to play in the state tournament — to win a title — is gone. The underclassmen, at least, have another opportunity next year. The Democrats, fortunately, have no seniors on their roster.

Said Strickland: "As we were walking out of the Red Robin this morning, Marquis stopped me and said, 'Coach, are we going to be able to play to get to a championship? This is messing up my four championships.'"

If only it were that easy.

"This is tough for all of us," Strickland said, "but I totally understand. We have to get this situation right so the virus doesn't spread and become more serious than what it already is."

Johnson takes the purely functional stance of a coach who has been through a lot — though nothing like this.

"All year, one of our mantras as a team was, 'Control what we can control,'" he said. "This is something we can't control. It's just the way it is."

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