by: TIMES PHOTO: VERN UTEYKE - Jesuit small forward Jack Nadelhoffer grabs a rebound in the third quarter of the Crusaders' loss to West Linn on Friday.

Sometimes the best laid basketball plans go awry.

Jesuit’s Reid Bucy funneled Payton Pritchard into a hard hedge along the right wing to a helping Jack Nadelhoffer, who pushed the West Linn guard to the brink of the Moda Center sideline.

Following the Crusaders’ pregame blueprint to the letter, Nadelhoffer held up Pritchard for half a second, just long enough to impede the sophomore’s progress and quickly rushed back to Ryan Shearmire at the three-point line.

Any other guard in the state would’ve stumbled out of bounds and tumbled into press row, another victim of Jesuit’s crackdown defense in the 6A state semifinals on Saturday.

Not Pritchard.

The future high-major Division One point guard tiptoed along the sideline like a cat scurrying across a telephone line, regained his balance and drove downhill at a ready and waiting Henry Mondeaux.

Mondeaux met Pritchard at the apex of both their jumps, put his bear claw-sized hands straight up in the air and cleanly thwacked the Lion headsman with his 260-pound frame. It was all Pritchard could do not to take a spill to the hardwood.

Yet, Pritchard climbed Mondeaux, and kept ascending until he was high enough to finish above the Jesuit defense for two.

The crowd ooh’d and awed at the Houdini high-wire act while Mondeaux solemnly grabbed the bouncing basketball and took it out of bounds, the latest witness to Pritchard’s prowess.

Jesuit did everything in its allied power to stop Pritchard and his backcourt mate Anthony Mathis. The Lion guards were just too talented, controlled and gifted for the Crusaders to deal with, combining for 33 points, 11 boards and six assists to bump Jesuit from the state tournament, 65-46.

“It’s tough when you play about as good of defense as you can play and they still hit the shot,” said Crusader guard Jack Bell. “At that point you basically have to say ‘Good shot’ and get back on offense. That’s how it was today. They’re good players. There’s nothing we could really do about it. We played good D. We did what we wanted to. Unfortunately we just couldn’t score the ball.”

“Our whole team thought we were going to come out and win this game,” said Nadelhoffer. “The shots just weren’t falling, but I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play with.”

Jesuit couldn’t have dreamed up a better start to the semifinal contest. The Crusaders grabbed a 6-2 lead as Dan Nelson picked Pritchard for a fastbreak hoop, Ryan Bay bounced home a fadeaway jumper and Mondeaux made two free throws. However, in actual fact, the Crusaders had major trouble putting the ball in the basket, sans the hot beginning.

Following a Collin Landry three from the left wing that cut West Linn’s lead to 11-9 in the first quarter, Jesuit went scoreless for the next two minutes. Meanwhile, West Linn’s CJ Sitton came off the bench and buried two threes while Pritchard and Mathis took turns attacking the paint and finishing to give West Linn a 21-11 lead going into the second quarter.

“When they went on that run that’s when our team got a little uneasy,” said Nadelhoffer. “We felt good about how we started from the get-go, but if that run didn’t happen I think we could’ve stayed in it later into the game.”

Navigating West Linn’s tricky 2-3 zone, the Crusaders concocted open looks from the outside by quickly humming the ball around the outside and skipping the rock over the top of the Lion defense for clean peeks at the hoop. Jesuit simply couldn’t coax diddly to drop from the perimeter, hitting just 7-28 three-pointers on the night to compound a pedestrian 28.7 percent shooting from the floor overall.

by: TIMES PHOTO: VERN UTEYKE - Jesuit senior guard Jack Bell fights with a West Linn power forward for an offensive rebound in the first quarter of the Crusaders' playoff loss.

“Our execution was great on offense,” said Nadelhoffer. “We had a couple miscues on defense at times that swung the momentum, but we executed really well. Our shots just weren’t falling today. A couple of bounces didn’t go our way. That’s just how it goes sometimes.”

The Lion backcourt of Pritchard and Mathis was simply sensational, combining for 21 first half points. Compressing the Crusader defense with daring drives to the cup from Mathis, and pick-and-roll interplays from Pritchard, West Linn shot 68 percent from the field in the first half, torching a Jesuit team that prides itself on the defensive end of the floor.

Nadelhoffer, Bay and Landry each hit threes in the second quarter that kept the game within reason for Jesuit. Landry’s second three of the first half closed West Linn’s gap to 30-17.

Yet, Pritchard goaded Jesuit’s defense for a hoop and then stepped behind a ball screen to bury a three from the top of the key to extend the advantage to 35-17.

by: TIMES PHOTO: VERN UTEYKE - Jesuit senior shooting guard Dan Nelson goes up over West Linn's Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis in the paint.

Shearmire’s lay-up gave West Linn a 37-20 lead at halftime.

“I thought we played well defensively and offensively,” said Bell. “Obviously we needed to hit some more shots, but credit goes to them. They made the plays and that’s really came down to it in the end.”

The Crusaders climbed as close as 40-27 in the third on a Mondeaux lay-up off a bounce pass from Bucy in transition. But, Pritchard was unrelenting in prodding the defense and setting up a shot for himself or his teammates. He hit another three and set up Elijah Grant with a trouble-free hoop at the rim after a sound drag screen from Shearmire.

Bay buried a one-dribble pull-up jumper from NBA-range and senior forward Chris Froude scored twice in the fourth, powering home a lefty hook and finishing a righty lay-up at the rim. By then, however, West Linn was comfortably up and looking ahead to 6A state championship game on Saturday.

Jesuit lost the third place contest, 64-56, to South Salem on Saturday, taking fifth overall for the second straight season.

The Crusaders, who started the season with many more questions than answers, finished the season 18-9, second in the Metro League and reached the 6A’s final four when no one thought they’d even place. They exceeded expectations with grit, toughness, execution and grime, rather than the picturesque domination that was once commonplace with the likes of Kyle Wiltjer, Stephen Neal and Khyan Rhymer.

With head coach Gene Potter at the helm and all-league talents like Nadelhoffer and Bay back next year, critics shouldn’t get to gummy about the Crusaders’ supposed demise.

“We’ve been an against all odds type of team all season,” said Bell. “I know a lot of people didn’t think we’d get to the semis at all, let alone the quarters. There’s no shame in losing to a great team like that. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but this is still a great group of guys. I wouldn’t want to be out there with anybody else.”

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