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Lions keep battling, but defensive lapses hamper team's efforts in Northwest Oregon Conference games

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - Senior Hunter Wetherbee gets into the lane for a jumper as St. Helens battles Milwaukie in boys basketball. Giving up 68 and 81 points was too much for the St. Helens offense to overcome as the Lions dropped both of their boys basketball games this past week.

St. Helens fell 68-56 at home to Milwaukie on Friday, Jan. 25, then lost 81-50 at La Salle Prep on Tuesday.

In both cases, the Lions started at least reasonably well but couldn't sustain the pace.

The losses put St. Helens at 2-5 at the midway point of the Northwest Oregon Conference season and had first-year coach Zach Waldher looking for more focus — and consistency — going into the challenge of No. 2-ranked Wilsonville at 7:15 p.m. Friday at St. Helens.

"All I'm expecting is for our team to show up and play hard," Waldher said. "Wins and losses will take care of themselves.

"Our guys keep battling — I've been pleased with that all year. They have not quit. They play extremely hard."

But the coach said attention to detail, especially at times on defense, is one thing the Lions will need more of down the stretch.

Case in point: the Milwaukie game, which St. Helens led 8-2 after one minute, 38 seconds. The Mustangs promptly called a timeout, then came out and took control of the action.

St. Helens got zero points out of its 10 subsequent possessions in the first quarter, while committing three turnovers and going 0 for 8 from the field and getting only one offensive rebound.

On top of that, Milwaukie opened the second quarter with a 17-4 burst that put St. Helens in catch-up mode.

"We did a good job of sharing the ball," Mustangs coach Don Law said.

Waldher saw the turn of events from a St. Helens perspective.

"When we were following our game plan, we looked good," he said. "Then all of a sudden we let off the gas pedal because we thought we were good."

Overall, "we didn't come to play," Waldher added. "We're not very mentally sound. We're not very mentally tough. We're not accountable. Our culture's not here. We had over 20 turnovers, we let No. 3 (5-10 senior guard Dustin Stradley) light us up."

Stradley finished with 29 points.

"He's a good player," Waldher said. "We didn't defend him well."

Hunter Wetherbee, a 5-3 senior forward, paced St. Helens with 22 points.

"Hunter played his butt off," Waldher said. "Other than that, I'm not very proud."

Junior wing Gavin Knoke was next in points for the Lions with 12 points. Senior forward Chris Beatty had 10.

Four nights later, Waldher went a bit more with youth, starting freshmen guards Trevor Fitzgerald and Zack Robinson against La Salle Prep and bringing another freshman, 6-2 post Neil Wolfe, off the bench.

Knoke (13 points), 6-5 senior post Parker Miller (12) and Chris Beatty (10) led the Lions in scoring. Wetherbee added seven points, and junior guard Canon Beisley had four.

Lack of rebounding hurt the Lions in the Falcons game.

"We got outrebounded by about 15. We gave them a bunch of second-chance points," Waldher said.

Also, "they turned our turnovers into a bunch of fast-break points the other way."

For La Salle Prep, senior guard Jace Norton scored 22 points, 17 in the first half. Sophomore wing Jake Owens had 17 points for the Falcons, with 12 in the third quarter. Senior wing Rudy Massand got 13 points, all in the first three quarters.

La Salle Prep led 19-11 after one quarter, 33-26 at the half and 59-40 through three periods.

The Falcons made eight 3-pointers and were 15 of 20 at the free-throw line.

Knoke had three of the Lions' four 3-pointers (Beisley had the other), and St. Helens was 9 of 14 at the foul line.

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