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Vikings riding high

Spirits are high at Forest Grove after a 16-point blowout win over Hood River

When the 2005-06 basketball season came to an end, Forest Grove had just one win to its credit - a win that came after 21 consecutive losses.

This year, the resurgent Vikings already have their first win, and it took just four games to get it.

Forest Grove (1-3) trampled Hood River Valley 52-36 last Friday night, putting a mark in the 'win' column for the first time this year and also avenging a heart-breaking, one-point overtime loss to the Eagles in last year's season opener.

'We needed to get this win,' said Forest Grove head coach Doug Hofmeister after the game. 'It's going to help us down the stretch and it got a huge monkey off our back.'

The win was even more vindicating for the players.

'It's a huge boost to our confidence,' said senior Dylan Sullivan, who played in every game last season. 'We can carry this win to our next game because success breeds success.'

At Monday's practice, the Vikings were understandably loose. The players laughed and joked during shootaround, and there was the unmistakable sign of relief that the hard work was finally paying off.

However, as rewarding as last Friday's win was, the Vikings won't get to dwell on it long. The team travels to North Salem (2-3) on Friday night for a non-conference affair. If the team wants to bring home win No. 2, they will have to cut down on mistakes and play to their potential against a solid North Salem team.

'We haven't performed to our full potential yet,' said sophomore point guard Brett Baumgartner.

'We need to be able to finish off games,' he added.

One of those games lacking a shiny finish came on Dec. 5 against Reynolds.

'We got beat on a last-second shot and lost by two,' recalled Sullivan. 'That was a game we could have won. We wanted to take that potential up a step the following week, and we did.'

Last Friday against Hood River, Sullivan and Baumgartner got help from teammates Brock Christensen and Dusty Klein, and the balanced offensive effort translated into a win.

Hofmeister was pleased with the play of Baumgartner, among others.

'He was running the offense well for us, which was great to see,' said the veteran head coach, who guided the Vikings to a 15-win season in 2003-04.

Sullivan added that the Vikings were playing great team defense and shooting with more confidence against Hood River. One point of emphasis this week, however, will be free throws after the Viks went just 3 for 11 in the first half against the Eagles.

Still, the Vikings were the better team last Friday night, and when the final buzzer resounded through the gym, fans cheered and the team celebrated heartily. As simple as it sounds, this was a team that didn't get to celebrate too many victories last year.

Another turn of events for Forest Grove is its fan base. Last season it was admittedly difficult to show up and watch the team lose night after night. But this season fans are slowly pouring back into the Viking gym, a fact Sullivan attributes to the team's close game against Reynolds and, now, their big win over Hood River.

'Actually, someone outside just asked me when our next home game was,' Sullivan said before Monday's practice. 'I can't remember the last time someone asked me that, if ever.'

The Viks have a long week to prepare for North Salem, with no game scheduled on Tuesday. That means the team can focus on maintaining its defensive intensity while fine-tuning a few aspects of its offense.

Forest Grove will play host to McNary next Tuesday before taking a week off for the holidays. The Viks will also travel to Redmond for a holiday tournament from Dec. 28-30, then begin Pacific Conference play on Jan. 5 against Tigard.