When the 2019-20 season started, the Tigard High School boys basketball team was lacking varsity experience — in a big way.
Having graduated nine seniors, including four starters, from last year's squad that reached the Class 6A state tournament, the Tigers were basically a brand new team.
Well, that brand-new team came just one win away from making a return trip to the state tournament. The young Tigard squad saw its season come to an end with a 58-43 loss to Central Catholic in a Class 6A state playoff second-round game played Saturday at Central Catholic High School.
"I'm very happy with the season," said Tigard junior Drew Carter, who was named the Three Rivers League Player of the Year. "Unfortunately, it came to an end today, but this is a great group of guys, and I had a blast this season. It was a really fun season. We were young, without much experience, but we picked it up quickly. I'm so happy I've been able to play with this group."
"I think it was a great season," said Tigard senior Steven Long, who led the Tigers with 10 points in Saturday's postseason contest. "It was our first year all together. It was kind of hard to mesh, a little bit, but, overall, we did great. We worked hard, and we played hard, every game."
With the win, Central Catholic, the No. 3 team out of the Mt. Hood Conference, and the No. 5 team in the final OSAA power rankings, improved to 19-7 on the season. The Rams also advance to play in the Class 6A state tournament. They'll face Mt. Hood Conference foe Clackamas in a tourney quarterfinal game set to start at 3:15 p.m. Thursday at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
Tigard, the No. 4 team out of the Three Rivers League, and the No. 12 team in the power rankings, finished its season with a final overall record of 16-10.
"At the beginning of the season, being a young team, we had a lot to learn," Tigard junior Brett Moss said. "From the beginning of the season, until now, we've stepped up a lot. We had some bumps in the road throughout the way, but we had good improvement."
The fired-up Tiger squad got off to a fast start in Saturday's playoff game. Moss scored on a breakaway dunk coming off the opening tip. Long then added a pair of baskets, helping Tigard take a 6-2 lead with 5 minutes and 41 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
Central Catholic, with junior Darius Gakwasi sinking back-to-back 3-point baskets, responded with a 10-0 run, giving the Rams a 12-6 lead with 3:29 left in the period.
Tigard freshman Malik Brown connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner, coming off a pass from Long, to end the Central Catholic run. But the Rams, with Gakwasi scoring 10 points in the quarter, would go on to take a 20-12 lead at the end of the opening period.
Central Catholic then got baskets from senior DeRay Seamster and sophomore Jordan King to open the second quarter, giving the home team a 24-12 advantage with 6:00 left before halftime.
Tigard battled back. Tigers junior Edward Beglaryan sank a 3-pointer off a pass from Moss, Long scored off another Moss assist, and Carter and Moss each had a free throw in the last 1:22 of the period, helping Tigard trim the Central Catholic lead to 29-19 at halftime.
The Rams opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run, giving Central Catholic its biggest lead of the game, at 37-19, with 6:12 left in the period.
But, again, Tigard tried to battle back. Beglaryan sank a put-back shot, Long converted a 3-point play, senior Dylan Berg sank a short-range banker and freshman Kalim Brown added a free throw, helping the Tigers trim the margin to 41-27 going into the fourth quarter.
Carter converted a 3-point play to open the stanza, making the score 41-30 with 7:38 left in the contest. The Tigers kept fighting after that. Following a 3-pointer by Moss and a pair of free throws by Malik Brown, Tigard trailed 49-37 with 3:46 remaining. But the Tigers couldn't get any closer, as Central Catholic pulled away in the final minutes to wrap up the 58-43 victory.
"They were just big. We still worked our butts off, but it wasn't enough. We didn't hit our shots," Long said. "We knew that if we were to lose, we were going home, so, obviously, we were doing everything we could to win."
"They're a good team. We just didn't score enough," Carter said. "It's the playoffs, anything can happen, and we knew we were still in it. We're always in it. We just came up short."
"I feel like they broke it down inside, and got a lot of layups," Moss said. "I feel like they just beat us inside. We had to adjust to that, but it was too big of a hole to come back from."
Long had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals to go with his team-high 10 points. Carter added nine points. Moss scored six. Malik Brown and Beglaryan each scored five. Kalim Brown had seven rebounds.
Tigard, as a team, made 13 of 47 shots from the field, with three 3-pointers, and 14 of 26 free-throw attempts.
"I thought it was a fun year," Moss said. "It's a good group of guys, and I love my teammates."
Gakwasi led all scorers with 22 points. Sophomore Luke Johnson added 17 points for the Rams, including 13 in the second half. Seamster scored seven points, and senior Gaige Ainslie had six.
Central Catholic, as a team, made 22 of 48 shots from the field, with two 3-pointers, and 12 of 22 free-throw attempts.
The loss marked the final high school game for Tigard seniors Max Lenzy (who missed the season due to injury), Michael Bailey, Long and Berg.
"It's bittersweet," Long said. "No more high school basketball, which is going to suck, but I'm ready to move on to the next chapter."
"We had a blast. It was a great group of guys," Carter said. "We're going to miss the seniors. They're going to do good in whatever they do."
Tigard potentially should have a strong group of returnees back next year.
"Most of our team is going to be here," Moss said. "It's going to be, for the most part, the same team, so I feel like we're going to just keep on rolling."
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