Beavers come close, can't down Demos
The perfect game required to beat the top-ranked team in the land didn't transpire, but the undaunted battle never ceased.
In spite of 14 turnovers, cold shooting spells and patchy free throw shooting there was Beaverton in the middle of the ring, going blow for blow with No. 1 Jefferson and its crew of nationally ranked AAU all-stars.
In the face of incessant defensive pressure and harassment from first-class athletes, the Beavers kept finding ways to stay relevant. Jamie Sweatman, Hunter Sweet and Beau Sheeran pummeled on the offensive boards for second chance opportunities. Cole Johanson and Carson Crawford created good looks against the Democrats' length when it looked there was no room to engineer offense and finished some absurd acrobatic buckets that captivated the Chiles Center crowd. Junior Jake Estep bested each Democrat defender that he came across with deft drives and a soft touch.
With 7:10 to go in the fourth quarter in the Class 6A semifinals, despite playing far from its best, Beaverton pulled within 42-39 of the gifted Democrats on a back-breaking scoop layup from Sweet over Jefferson junior shot blocking menace Kamaka Hepa.
The upset few saw coming was well within reason. A shot at the 6A state championship was one run away, two threes, a couple of turnovers, a single push from shocking the state and advancing to the title game on Saturday. Beaverton was fully capable of such a sequence after burying three playoff foes with its spurtability and explosive offense.
What more would expect from the two-time Metro League champions who prided itself as a team that backs down from no one and cedes nothing no matter the foe?
But then, as Jefferson has the propensity to do, the proverbial state favorite put the game in a vice. Matching their next level athleticism with a killer intensity that ratcheted up as the fourth quarter wore on, the Demos roared away from the Beavers with seven minutes of breathtaking fast breaks and unruly man-to-man defense to beat No. 4 Beaverton 63-54 on Friday.
The loss stung, of course. To be within striking range and not connect a knockout blow, burned deeply. Beaverton's last goal on a list of seasonal accomplishments was to finish off this year with a ring. Still, the Beavers came away with their pride and backbone stronger than ever after coming with single digits of a Demo squad that sports multiple future high-major D1 players and a horde of skilled, yet defensive-minded guards.
"That's what Beaverton sports are all about," Johanson said. "If it's the basketball team or the football team we come out and play as hard as we can. We played for our student section. We played for our community. We wanted to show the state what Beaverton High School is all about. We're the kind of program that's still gonna scrap, claw and fight. I think we showed that tonight. It's just disappointing we didn't play our best game."
"We have some of the biggest hearts in the world, honestly," Sweatman said. "These guys are my family. You have to tip your hat to Jefferson, they're a great team. We played a good game, they just hit the shots they needed to and played a better game than us. But, I'm proud of my guys. I know nobody's gonna give up until there are zero seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter. Some days you don't get the outcome you want and that was today."
"We had nothing to lose," added Sweet. "(Head coach Andrew) Vancil had a great gameplan that everyone bought into and believed in. Not one guy thought that game was over. We kept competing, kept scrapping until the last seconds. I'm proud of our team through and through. It stings that we couldn't finish, but that's the beauty of sports."
The Democrats were all they were cracked up to be, surely. Hepa finished with a 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and made a number of heady passes that led to scores. He was the Democrats' fulcrum offensively, unselfishly dishing the basketball when Beaverton doubled or swiveling inside with his mix of smooth post moves for paint scores. Jefferson's guards Marcus Tsohonis (13 points, four assists) Thomas Miles (eight points, three steals) and Geno West (a game-high 18 points) thrived in transition and at the free throw line while supplying the sort of stifling defense that took Beaverton out of its offense at times. Johanson said, in all the hours of film he watched and the instances he'd observed Jefferson live, he'd never seen the Democrats guard as intensely as they did on Friday. Beaverton made just 4-for-20 from three-point land and shot just 40 percent from the field. Estep led the Beavers with a team-high 15 points.
"They're gonna win the state championship with that kind of defense — that was at another level," Johanson. "You have to give them credit. (Tsohonis), (Hepa) and (West) might get that label of just being talented and kind of lazy, but they compete hard out there. We made just enough plays through three quarters, but Jeff is just a tough team to stop."
After Sweet's score, Jefferson's Robert Ford made a big three— his only basket of the game — to extend the Demos' lead to 45-39. That's when the turnovers took over. The Beavers coughed the ball up four times in the next two minutes, which led nine quick Democrat points and an 11-3 run. Not only did Beaverton not get a shot on those possessions, but the live ball turnovers ignited Jefferson's patented fast break attack with Hepa, Miles and West getting out and running the wings. After Estep was stripped inside, Tsohonis spun a pass ahead to West in transition, who swerved through the paint for the reverse layup and a 47-39 lead with 5:58 to go. Hepa made a sweet jump pass to a cutting Miles for two and then the Alaskan transfer splashed a pull-up three — all off takeaways — to give Jefferson a 52-42 lead. Crawford and Sweet both made threes in the middle of that deciding spurt, but with Jefferson clicking on all cylinders, Beaverton couldn't come any closer. In all, Beaverton turned the ball over 18 times.
"We didn't play nearly as good of game as we needed to in order to be the No. 1 team in the state," Johanson said. "We knew we could beat them if we played a clean, crisp game, knocked down some shots and didn't turn the ball over. We just didn't play our best game. We played with a lot of heart, we're just disappointed we didn't come out with the win."
The Beavers will play for third place against West Linn on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at the Chiles Center. The matchup got a jolt of juice when the Lions were upended by Clackamas in the 6A semis on Saturday afternoon. West Linn is headed by a handful of transfers, one of whom is ex-Beaver Nolan Bertain, who left Beaverton High School last summer after two years of all-Metro League honors playing with Sweet, Johanson, Sweatman and company. Even besides the intriguing subplot, senior-heavy Beaverton wants to leave this season with one final win.
"We're gonna play like it's our last game because it is our last game," Johanson said. "We're excited to see either team. We'll be motivated and ready to come back and play. We're just gonna lay it all on the line. It's been a long time since this program has gotten third place in state...we just want to go off on a good note."