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West Linn bounces back, bounces Beaverton 71-58, finishes third at state
In the hours after the West Linn boys basketball team saw its hopes for a fifth straight Class 6A state championship evaporate in a Friday semifinal loss to Clackamas, West Linn senior Nolan Bertain rattled off a text to his former team.
Bertain, who transferred to West Linn from Beaverton for his senior season, and the Beavers were back on the court together for Saturday's third-place game on Saturday. Bertain, one of seven transfers at West Linn this year, wished the Beavers good luck and told them it would be an honor to share the court with them in their final game as seniors, even though they'd be wearing different colored jerseys. He wasn't looking for a response, but merely wanted to extend an olive branch to former teammates, a team that had accomplished a lot in their two seasons, including winning a Metro League championship.
Nothing more needed to be said, at least at that point.
There was a palpable buzz in the Chiles Center as Bertain took the floor and his stone-faced former mates turned their attention to the tip-off, both teams lifted by the thought of ending the year with a win.
In the end, it was the Lions who got what they wanted, taking over in the second half, then slowing a Beaverton rally to escape with a 71-58 victory.
"We competed hard against a really, really good Beaverton team and I think that showed our character," said Bertain, who finished with eight points and three rebounds. "We easily could've folded and thought 'Oh, it's third place. It doesn't mean anything.' But, it does. It was a pride game for us and we wanted to end this season with a win. Not a lot of teams get to do that.
"We were all really upset after losing to Clackamas, but sometimes the ball just rolls the other way. That's part of basketball and part of life, too. I like that we came back and got the win."
For West Linn, the end of a tumultuous season ended on a high note.
"I'm super proud of my teammates," said West Linn senior point guard Braden Olsen, who finished with 19 points, five assists and three rebounds. "It's been great seeing (the transfers) come here and do so well. Everyone became better as people. The coaches got better, the players got better, the whole team got better. We were peaking at the right time. It's too bad we didn't go out the way we wanted to, but it's awesome to bond like this."
The win capped second-ranked West Linn's season at 23-5 following their Three Rivers League championship. Olsen and senior guard Rodney Hounshell both won second-team all-tournament honors for their efforts.
Fourth-ranked Beaverton, meanwhile, ended its year with a Metro League crown and a 23-6 mark after giving eventual state champion Jefferson a stiff challenge that lingered long into the fourth quarter in the semifinals on Friday.
Hunter Sweet, Cole Johanson, Carson Crawford, Jamie Sweatman, Beau Sheeran and Wyatt Christophersen — the Beaver seniors who were instrumental helping turn the program around under head coach Andrew Vancil — completed their careers with their heads held high. They were joined by junior Jake Estep, a transfer from Tigard who garnered first-team all-tournament honors and dropped in 26 points in the finale against West Linn.
Olsen swished three straight three-pointers in less than a minute near the start of the game, but the Beavers rallied to lead 19-17 at the end of the frame behind Estep and Hunter Sweet. Estep poured in 13 points in the first period and Sweet — who ended his career as Beaverton's all-time leading scorer and rebounder — added six more.
The Lions pushed ahead 39-34 at the half, getting four straight points and six in the quarter from Khalid Thomas (including a dunk), six more from Keishon Dawkins and five by Olsen, while the Beavers tried to hang close behind two Carson Crawford "threes" and another six points from Sweet.
West Linn went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter, getting two baskets by Thomas and "threes" by both Bertain and Olsen to extend its lead to 58-41 at the end of three periods.
Beaverton, however, bowled back within 58-50 with a nine-point spurt of its own early in the fourth. In that stretch, Beau Sheeran and Sweet scored early, then Estep rattled off five straight points (including a three-point play) in 41 seconds to cut the gap to eight.
Ultimately, the Lions got a tide-stopping three-pointer from Drayton Caoile and a big two-handed dunk from Bertain to boost West Linn's edge to 65-53 and the Lions rolled to victory from there.
For all the media scrutiny, the social media bile and ill will aimed at West Linn this year, the Lions played well together and grew up quickly.
"Coming into this, my main goal was to grow as a person and as a man and be ready for the next level," Bertain said. "My main goal wasn't to win a ring. And I know everybody else's goal wasn't to win a ring, either. At the end of the day if you're a better basketball player, a better person and you found really good friends that you'll have for a long time, that's all that matters. If I have that in my back pocket, that's what I care about most. I'm just glad I was part of the West Linn community."
"We love when people hate on us," added Olsen, who paid his dues behind Payton Pritchard for three seasons and led the state in assists this year. "We kind of grew to like it. It was constant all the time: Twitter, texts, crowds. Obviously when you win and when you have big names on your team, people are gonna be jealous of you and hate on you — even adults. You just gotta go through it. But when it was game time, we were just ready to play and tried to not listen to it. Everyone is here is my brother."
Thomas finished with 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting, while Sweet finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"The energy was key," Bertain said. "If you bring that to the court, you can play with anyone — no matter who it is — and play with heart. I thought we did both today."