There's nothing like high school basketball at its best.
Long-range 3-pointers, pinpoint passes, daring steals and high-speed fast breaks.
Then there was the Wednesday, June 16, contest between the West Linn and Tualatin boys. This one was a hard-fought, intense, occasionally sloppy battle that may well help decide the Three Rivers League championship, with the Lions using an 11-2 edge in the game's final three minutes to win 51-42 at Tualatin High School.
"Obviously, it was an ugly one, but I'm super proud of my team," said West Linn sophomore point guard Jackson Shelstad, who finished with 16 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field and 8 of 10 free throws, along with five rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal. "They stepped up big time. Zeke Viuhkola and Mason VanBeenen in the second half really stepped up big time. They were the reason we won."
"It's like coach said, we're going to have some peaks and valleys and we've just got to be tough," said Viuhkola, a junior guard who led all scorers with 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting (with one 3-pointer) and 4 of 7 free throws, along with nine rebounds and one assist. "(We just had to) show a lot of toughness and play together as a team the best that we can and just try to finish it out. That was really big for us."
With the win — West Linn's seventh straight — the Lions improved to 6-0 in Three Rivers League play and 7-0 overall. Tualatin, meanwhile, saw its four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 7-3 in TRL play and 9-3 overall.
While disappointed with the loss, the Timberwolves were proud of their defensive efforts against Shelstad and the Lions, forcing 22 West Linn turnovers in the contest.
"I think we just focused on their best scorers the most, Jackson and Zeke, and I think we walled them off and didn't let them penetrate like they usually do," said Tualatin junior Malik Ross, who led his team with 16 points on 5 of 20 shooting from the field (with one "three") and 5 of 6 free throws, along with six steals and four rebounds. "We knew we had to get back in transition because they're both extremely quick. I think our main focus was defense and offense was second and I think we did a good job of that."
"I just feel like we stuck to our game plan and we were really locked in as a team and played (solid) defense," added junior guard Noah Ogoli, who finished with seven points on 3 of 12 shooting from the field (with one 3-pointer) and 0 of 2 foul shots, along with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block. "We all did a good job. We walled them off for a long time, but it wasn't enough to get the job done."
West Linn led 5-0 early on thanks to a drive and a "three" by Viuhkola, but the Timberwolves answered with a pair of 3-pointers by Ogoli and Jackson Passaglia to take their first lead at 6-5 with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Lions led 11-10 after the first period, but saw Tualatin open the second period on a 10-4 run highlighted by four points from Ryan Schleicher (including a "three") and capped by Ogoli's fast break basket over VanBeenen for a 20-15 lead with 2:45 left in the half.
The Wolves' lead was just 22-21 at the half — thanks to a couple late Viuhkola scores — but Tualatin seemed to re-take control at the start of the third quarter, pushing ahead 27-21 on baskets by Ross and Ogoli, and a foul shot from Jack Wager 1:12 into the period.
Again, however, the Timberwolves' lead wouldn't last. The Lions roared back into contention over the next two minutes, getting baskets from Shelstad, VanBeenen and Adam Simshauser, and five more points from Viuhkola, that run capped by a Viuhkola inside hoop assisted by Shelstad that tied the game 32-32 with 4:02 left in the quarter.
Tualatin still led 37-36 entering the fourth period and was dead-even with the Lions at 40-40 when Peter Burke hit one free throw with 2:56 left to play, but West Linn took over from there.
Viuhkola kickstarted that drive when he scored lefthanded in the lane, then turned in a three-point play on the next possession to give his team a 45-40 edge with 2:01 remaining. And from there — while the Wolves failed to score on their next five possessions — the Lions put the game away at the foul line, making 6 of 10 free throws in the final 1:33 to win.
"We know they are a really good team, so even though we didn't feel like we were playing our best, it was really good that in a sloppy game we were able to pull it out," Viuhkola said.
For their part, the Timberwolves knew that playing another tough team — even in a loss — would help make them a better team.
"I think playing against good competition is a lot better for us … because we want to get to the next level in college at D1 so this is great for us," Ross said. "But I think it's more the offseason work that we need to put in. … It's all about the offseason."
Mitchell Duea added four points and VanBeenen 11 rebounds in the win for West Linn, while Burke had five and Kellen Hale four for Tualatin.
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