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Trojans defeat Grant Union 54-45 for fourth-place finish, the best mark in more than a decade for the boys basketball program

JODI ARRITOLA - The Kennedy boys basketball team recovered from an opening day loss to the eventual-champion Columbia Christian Knights on Thursday by winning back-to-back games over Knappa and Grant Union to bring home the program's first state tournament trophy since the Trojans placed fifth in 2008.
It's difficult to tell which team from Kennedy High School is more elated coming back from the state championship tournament in Pendleton this week.

While the girls were busy winning the program's second state title in the past three seasons, the boys team exceeded many expectations by rebounding from a loss on the first day of the tournament to win its next two and finish fourth overall this season.

"We're obviously pretty happy with how the weekend went, for our team and the girls team," Kennedy boys basketball head coach Karl Schmidtman said.

The Trojans (18-14, 7-5 Tri-River Conference) entered the quarterfinals with a tough draw on Thursday, opening against a Columbia Christian team that beat Kennedy 58-45 and would go on to take home the 2018 2A State Championship.

"Looking back we feel we could have done a little better in that one," Schmidtman said. "They kind of took it to us for three quarters."

Kennedy took Columbia Christian (30-1, 17-1 Northwest League) down to the final possession when they played the Knights to a 47-45 loss in December. But the rematch on Thursday was a different story. The Trojans found themselves down by 10 points after the first quarter, and though they were able to bring it back to a single-digit deficit at halftime, Columbia Christian blew their lead up to 25 points by the end of the third quarter to run away with the victory.

Sophomore wing Emorej Lynk had a solid all-around game for the Trojans with 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal, but sophomore guard Bruce Beyer was the only other player on the team to reach double digits in scoring, coming off the bench to net 10 points in the loss.

That left Kennedy just 12 hours to prepare for its follow-up elimination game on Friday morning against the Knappa Loggers (23-6, 17-1 Northwest League), the only team in the state this year to beat both Columbia Christian and Western Mennonite, the two state finalists.

"What we had talked about before that game was the opportunity to be here in Pendleton," Schmidtman said. "All the years and hard work they've put in to get to this point."

But the Loggers had championship aspirations of their own that were dashed in an upset loss to 11-seed Vernonia on Thursday and were unable to muster the drive to recover in time for the Friday morning game.

The Trojans came out firing on all cylinders in the consolation bracket, taking a 28-18 lead late in the second quarter against Knappa. Kennedy held that advantage through the opening minutes of the third quarter before the Loggers went on a 19-7 run to take a 41-39 lead with less than a minute left in the quarter, and both teams entered the fourth knotted up at 41-41.

Knappa retook the lead on a 3-pointer to go up 44-41, but Beyer returned the favor with a 3 of his own to spark a 14-3 run over the remain six minutes of the game and the Trojans came away with a 55-50 victory to advance to the final day of competition.

Kennedy was led by sophomore guard Luke Hall, who scored 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Lynk added 13 points and nine rebounds, while Carson Hall put up 10 points, five rebounds and three assists in the win, which propelled the Trojans into a match up against the Grant Union Prospectors (19-8, 17-1 Wapiti League) on Saturday.

JODI ARRITOLA - Sophomore Emorej Lynk was named to the All-Tournament First Team after averaging 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals over the weekend.
The Prospectors gave the Trojans their best shot early, leading for much of the first half. But the Trojans went on a 12-2 run over the final two minutes of the second quarter to head into halftime up 32-26.

Kennedy extended its lead to 10 points early in the third quarter on a basket from Lynk and kept Grant Union at arm's reach for much of the game, but the Prospectors went on a late run to pull within 45-43 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter.

The Prospectors were forced to put Kennedy on the free throw line, but the Trojans responded with clutch shooting, making 8-of-9 attempts down the stretch to take a 52-45 lead with under 30 seconds left in the game.

With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Carson Hall took a rebound and passed it up to Lynk, who slammed it home with one second remaining to put the finishing touches on an incredible weekend, giving Kennedy a 54-45 victory.

Carson Hall and Rocco Carley walked away from the game with 12 points each. Lynk had 10, Mason Boen added nine and Luke Hall chipped in eight.

The Trojans' fourth-place trophy is the program's best finish at the state tournament in more than a decade and represents a steady incline since Schmidtman took over the program in 2012-13. That year's team went 1-13 and finished last in the Tri-River Conference, but has steadily improved over the past six seasons, culminating in two trips to the quarterfinals in the past three years.

Schmidtman puts much of the credit to the fervent basketball community in Mount Angel, which invests significant time in their youth programs to give the high school program playoff-ready athletes coming into their freshman and sophomore years.

"I do think that is a huge piece of this for both the boys and the girls," Schmidtman said. "There's great support for athletics in Mount Angel. These guys are playing a ton of youth basketball. It's just awesome."

Phil Hawkins can be reached at 503-765-1194 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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