Following the Woodburn boys basketball team's fifth-place finish at the 4A State Championship tournament over the weekend, head coach Raul Veliz is hoping his players come away with the proper context for just what an accomplishment they produced on the court this season.
The Bulldogs opened the tournament on a high note, beating the Marshfield Pirates 55-30 in the quarterfinals to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1995. The team followed with back-to-back losses, dropping a 58-50 game on Friday to the eventual-champion Banks Braves and letting a double-digit lead slip away in a 49-42 loss to Stayton on Saturday.
While it wasn't the way the team wanted to finish the season, it was nevertheless a season that few in Woodburn had seen in generations.
"I told them that what they accomplished is something that will hopefully be the spark that establishes (the program) for the next year and the year after that," Veliz said. "Now the standard is set, and we just have to keep doing things to give the boys their best chance to fulfill that."
Woodburn's 2018-19 season marks just the third time in the past 25 years the team has qualified for the state quarterfinal tournament and only the second time the team has won a state trophy, finishing behind the 1995 team that went 21-5 and was runner up in the 3A Classification.
In winning their quarterfinal match against Marshfield on Thursday, this year's Bulldog team earned its 22nd victory of the season, surpassing the 1995 team's win total and finishing behind only the 1938 Bulldogs team that set the school benchmark for victories in a season with a 24-7 record.
For all the disappointment in the moment of finishing the season with two straight losses and placing fifth after advancing to the semifinals, the 2018-19 Woodburn boys basketball team will ultimately be remembered as one of the best teams to ever lace up shoes and play in a Bulldog uniform.
"We're definitely happy with our boys getting the opportunity to play at the elite eight, winning the first game and having a chance to experience that," Veliz said. "It's been a while since Woodburn basketball has had a chance to experience that kind of success."
The weekend began in similar fashion to how the Bulldogs managed to get there in the first place — with their defense. After putting up their best defensive effort of the season a week prior in a first-round victory over Mazama to qualify for the quarterfinals, Woodburn duplicated their effort against Marshfield.
After giving up a layup on the opening possession against the Pirates, Woodburn went on an 18-1 run over the next 7:47 to take an 18-3 lead heading into the second quarter. Marshfield looked to retake the momentum with back-to-back 3-pointers early in the quarter to cut their deficit to 20-9, but senior E.J. Barajas responded with a 3 of his own, jumpstarting a 9-2 run to end the quarter and send the Bulldogs into halftime up 29-11.
The Bulldogs kept their foot on the gas in the second half, using their defensive transition to set up their offensive game. Woodburn continued to add to their lead, which ballooned to as high as 30 points late in the fourth en route to the victory.
"The only way we know we can get into offensive transition is with a great defensive effort," Veliz said. "That was our focus all year, and we've just been getting better and better."
R.J. Veliz led the Bulldogs with 22 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while Trevor Karsseboom added 11 with three steals as well.
The semifinal game against Banks on Friday was neck-and-neck in the first quarter, with five ties and three lead changes before the Braves pulled away in the second to lead 36-28 at the half.
Banks' lead grew to 11 points early in the third quarter, but back-to-back 3s by Karsseboom cut the deficit 41-36 and once again made it anyone's game.
The Bulldogs clawed their way back to within 47-46 when R.J. Veliz hit a 3-pointer and followed by going 1-of-2 at the line. Woodburn continued to hang around, but couldn't take the lead. The two teams traded baskets, and another field goal by R.J. Veliz made it a 49-48 game with 2:39 left in the game before the Braves made their final push, going on a 9-2 run to finish the game.
R.J. Veliz once again had 22 points and eight rebounds, while Karsseboom added 14 points, five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.
The loss led to a rematch against league rival Stayton on Saturday, where the Bulldogs were eight minutes away from pulling out the victory before the Eagles went on a 23-6 run in the fourth to come away with the win.
R.J. Veliz scored 18 points in the loss and was named a unanimous selection to the All-Tournament First Team.
Coach Veliz wants to build upon this year's finish as a catalyst for future seasons, using the 2018-19 team as the model for how the Bulldogs want to establish themselves as a basketball program at the 4A level.
"A lot of the boys, even after the last game we lost, a lot of the boys wanted to lace them up again," Veliz said. "They were that ready to go again."
And next year, he expects the Bulldogs to be right back in the state playoffs, once again contending for an opportunity at a state title.
"These guys have set the bar: make it to the elite eight, make it to state, and give yourself a chance in those games."