Turnovers lead to slow start, Northwest Oregon Conference loss for St. Helens

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Junior wing Gavin Knoke is introduced with the St. Helens starting lineup at a recent game.The Putnam High boys basketball team took care of business on Tuesday night.

And the St. Helens boys saw, again, that their hoops program has business to tend to as it tries to grow into a bona fide Northwest Oregon Conference contender.

The Kingsmen completed a two-game series sweep with their 67-47 victory in the Lions' den. No surprise there — Putnam had won the previous meeting at home 73-46 on Jan. 22.

The Kingsmen are on their way to the Class 5A playoffs. It's mostly a question of where they will finish in the NWOC top four and what their Oregon School Activities Association ranking will be. After Tuesday's league action, the Kingsmen were 8-4, tied for third with La Salle Prep and a half-game back of Parkrose — with Parkrose No. 7 in the OSAA rankings, La Salle No. 8 and Putnam No. 9.

"It's a tough league," said Putnam coach Gregg Griffin, whose club climbed to 12-7 overall.

And even though his team led all the way Tuesday after a 9-0 start, Griffin was breathing a sigh of relief because the Lions fought hard and got within three points late in the first half.

"The coach of St. Helens (Zach Waldher) does a heck of a job," Griffin said. "They were much tougher tonight than the first time we played. And they play better at home, I think.

"It was a dogfight, and we were very fortunate. I think they ran out of gas a little bit. But they played tough all the way."

Putnam had too many weapons and too much firepower for St. Helens, though.

Ruben Onishchenko, a 6-3 senior wing, led the Kingsmen and the game with 25 points. He had support from a variety of places, too, with 6-5 senior Brady Miller the next highest in points for Putnam with 11.

Junior wing Gavin Knoke and senior forward Chris Beatty each scored 11 points for St. Helens, which got only nine points in the first quarter and eight in the fourth.

"It was a ballgame. But our immaturity showed down the stretch," Waldher said. "And we had too many turnovers to win. We shot ourselves in the foot with 11 of them in the first quarter and ended up with 30-plus — that's not a good night."

The Lions fell to 3-8 in the NWOC and 5-15 overall, with two games remaining — Friday at Milwaukie and Tuesday, Feb. 26 at home against La Salle Prep.

"The boys aren't giving up," Waldher said. "A lot of teams would at this point. We've just got to keep grinding, keep learning. When we play hard, it gives us a chance to win.

"We'll regroup and come back."

Griffin noted again that the Lions did just that during the course of Tuesday's game. He said he told his Putnam players at halftime that, despite their 34-26 advantage, the game was far from over.

"St. Helens really battled. I told my kids, 'We're in a fight, and they're going to keep swinging, so we've got to keep swinging,'" Griffin said.

Waldher said he was impressed with Putnam overall and with senior Shane Halladin, who had eight points and a bunch of floor leadership.

"He's a heck of a guard. He moves the ball and fakes … that's just a well-run, classy organization over there, a good school," Waldher said. "They were prepared for tonight and played well."

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