The Lions are back.
The ninth-ranked Lions, in their first season under head coach Eric Viuhkola — he previously led West Linn from 2008-09 through 2015-16 (including those four straight state championships) — won their way back to the tournament by upsetting No. 8 Mountainside 68-50 at Mountainside High School on Saturday, March 7.
"Chiles Center. It's already decided. It's a great feeling," said West Linn senior guard Micah Garrett, who tied for team-high scoring honors with 18 points against Mountainside. "We work harder than anybody in the state in practice — our whole team, the whole group, everybody — and we showed that tonight."
"Our team knew we were going to have our ups and downs, but in March, that's when (Viuhkola) said we've got to be at our best and we showed that today," said West Linn freshman point guard Jackson Shelstad, who had 18 points, five assists, five rebounds and six steals in the win over the Mavericks.
"It's pretty cool. I'm really excited," added senior guard Bryson Crockett, who added 13 points on Saturday. "It feels good. Everything is just falling in line."
In the process, West Linn improved to 17-9 overall after finishing second in the Three Rivers League. Next up, West Linn will open play at state against No. 1 Jesuit (22-4 overall after winning the Metro League) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
As daunting as that matchup might sound, the Lions say they'll be ready.
"We've just got to keep surprising people and be ready, just focus on the next game," said West Linn senior guard Colton Young, who scored five first-quarter points against Mountainside. "We trust our teammates and that's how we get it done."
"We'll just keep going hard and keep trusting each other and play as hard as we can," Crockett said.
"We want to prove everybody wrong," Shelstad added. "I think we can go all the way. We've got a great team."
In the win over Mountainside — which ended its year at 21-5 after finishing second in the Metro League — the Lions absolutely blasted the Mavericks with a devastating 28-point first quarter.
Shelstad was on attack mode from the opening tip, knocking down three 3-pointers in the quarter and scoring 11 points in the game's first eight minutes, including back-to-back "threes" in the final 27 seconds, the last one a 25-foot buzzer beater from above the top of the key that gave the Lions a 28-15 lead.
Garrett was tough early on, too, adding seven points in the first quarter, while Young went for five, Crockett added a "three" and senior wing/post Parker Durbin two points. For Mountainside, senior Bennett Giebels scored seven points in the frame to keep the Mavericks within arm's length.
While the Lions' offense slowed in the second quarter, their defense flexed its muscles, limiting Mountainside to just five points on 2 of 14 shooting from the field, while forcing four turnovers in the period.
West Linn senior Gus Michelon hit a "three" in the second quarter and Shelstad added another three points to give their team a 38-20 lead at halftime.
The Lions boosted their lead to 44-25 when Garrett scored on a drive with 4:57 remaining in the third period — Garrett, Shelstad and Durbin scored four points each in the stanza — but the Mavericks weren't quite done yet.
Mountainside senior wing Grayson Rowell hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter while Giebels added another seven points to keep the Mavericks within 50-33 entering the fourth quarter. Mountainside continued to battle there, but got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way, the last time at 52-41 when Rowell scored on a drive and turned it into a three-point play with 5:33 left in the game.
Garrett made sure the Lions stayed ahead in that final quarter, going for 11 points, including a 3-pointer and a 6 of 7 performance at the foul line.
"We knew that we had to put pressure on them because they had a bunch of 'bigs,' but we knew that our guard play could really work … so we just put it on them from the jump," Garrett said. "We knew we could win it."
"It all starts from practicing hard and trusting each other," Crockett said. "We've definitely had some valleys (this year), but this is all that matters right now. It's good."
Durbin finished 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lions, while Giebels led the Mavericks with 18 points and seven rebounds. Mountainside senior Andrew Ingalls added six points and 10 rebounds.
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