PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Lions come out roaring, sock it to HRV
Fifteen minutes before tip-off against Hood River Valley on Wednesday, St. Helens assistant coach Jake Ramiskey had some kick-in-the-pants words for the Lions.
"We've been together for four years," he told them. "I want you to play as hard as you can and see what happens if you really go out and give it your all."
That lit a fire, and the Lions got to roaring more and more as the night went on.
They wound up playing their best game of the season — "by far," according to first-year head coach Zach Waldher — and buried the Eagles 64-45 for their second win against six losses this season.
The Lions did it primarily with a seven-man rotation and with only 10 players — none a mainstay last season — in uniform.
"We've been going through some hard times as a program, as team," said senior post Parker Miller. "Jake has been a friend of ours since freshman year. He sat me and (senior forward) Ryan Hastings down and said, 'Hey, I need it from you guys tonight.' It really got to us."
Said Hastings: "He was saying how he puts a lot into working with us, so we came out and put our all into it for him."
The first half was close — St. Helens led 27-23 despite its 13 turnovers.
But the Lions began to pull away in the third quarter, building their lead to 42-33 with eight minutes to go.
And they romped in the final frame, stretching their lead to 51-25 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. HRV never could make a closing run.
The Lions asserted themselves all night at both ends of the floor, the 6-5 Miller in particular. He gave his impression of Jusuf Nurkic, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds, sturdy defense under the basket and three charges taken.
"The man of the hour," Waldher said. "He played amazing."
Before the game, Miller and the Lions looked at the Hood River Valley roster, which had no one taller than 6-2, and figured this could be his night.
"I challenged him," Ramiskey said. "I said, 'Nobody out there is going to be able to play with you and stop you if you're determined enough to go show people what you really have. You'll have a great game.' And he did."
Miller called it "a really fun game." One reason for that was because he was able to stay out of foul trouble, a facet of the game that had limited him and some of his teammates in other outings this season.
The Lions had only three fouls in the first half and 13 for the game, and no one had to go to the bench because he was in foul trouble.
"The whole team did a really good job of staying out of foul trouble, just keeping our heads and playing good help defense. That was really big for us," Miller said.
HRV came into the game with a 5-4 record that included a 67-60 victory over Reynolds, which had beaten St. Helens 65-56. So the Eagles were no slouch.
Hastings said it was "the best talking we've had on defense all season. We communicated. It was really fluid. We hustled, got on the ground. It was a good defensive effort."
Miller got more aggressive and stronger as the game went on. He scored 14 points in the second half.
"I've known I could do that all season, and it was a good opportunity for me to do that, because they didn't really have a big that could bang with me down low," he said. "I knew I had the advantage, so I just went to work."
Miller even made a couple of hard drives straight from the perimeter to the basket, looking like the defensive end he is in football going to sack the quarterback.
"'Point guard Miller,'" Hastings joked.
"Coach doesn't like me doing that," Miller said.
But it turned out okay on Wednesday, and Ramiskey said he hopes the Lions can keep Miller unleashed.
"He's got some small schools looking at him for basketball, and I don't want him to waste the opportunity by not playing hard," Ramiskey said. "I think he showed people here tonight what he can do at the next level."
Defense and rebounding led the way for St. Helens.
"We've been doing a lot of box-out and chase-down drills in practice," Miller said. "That just grilled in our minds that we've got to be there (on defense and in going for rebounds, that we've got to stop (the other team), that they shouldn't get anything, that they're not better than us and we can take it."
The Lions had only five turnovers in the second and 18 in the game — an improved number for them.
"That was big for us. We were mostly under control," Waldher said.
The ball moved well on offense, too, and sharpshooting junior guard/wing Gavin Knoke did his thing, hitting five 3-pointers (at least one in each quarter) for 17 points. He also had three steals.
Senior forward Chris Beatty had 10 points and six rebounds. Off the bench, senior forward Hunter Wetherbee had eight points and six boards. Freshman point guard Trevor Fitzgerald chipped in with five points and four assists. Hastings pulled down six rebounds. Senior guard Jacob Robbins scored four points.
"We put it together," Waldher said.
The next challenge will come Friday night at home against The Dalles (7:15 p.m.). The Riverhawks are 3-7 and are coming off a Dec. 28 win at Stevenson (Washington). They beat Lebanon 63-49 and Crescent Valley 52-50 and were competitive in losses of 31-30 at Hillsboro and 65-51 at Milwaukie, two of St. Helens' Northwest Oregon Conference rivals.
It's a chance for the Lions to post their first win streak and go into the NWOC season with some momentum.
League play begins Tuesday at Wilsonville, which is "only" No. 1-ranked by Class 5A coaches (and No. 2 in the Oregon School Activities Association computer rankings). The Wildcats were second in the state tournament last season.
"I can't wait to see what happens Friday night," Ramiskey said, "to see if we play that hard again."