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Lions advance to finals of Lakeside tourney

by: VERN UYETAKE West Linn’s Jarrod Howard splits a pair of defenders as he drives to the hoop in West Linn’s opening round victory over North Medford in the Lakeside Holiday Tournament.

The West Linn boys basketball team clawed its way into the finals of the Lakeside Holiday Classic at Lakeridge High School this week.

After some disappointing results against Wilsonville and Southridge, the Lions have regained their footing with wins over North Medford and Grant to reach the championship of the eight-team tournament that was held on Wednesday afternoon.

West Linn opened the tournament against North Medford, a team that beat the Lions in the first round of last year's state tournament.

In that game at the Rose Garden last year, North Medford hammered West Linn on the boards as second-chance points proved to be the difference.

The Lions made a concerted effort to fix that discrepancy this time around and it helped them to a 59-52 victory.

Devon Hawkins and Ryan Shearmire did much of the dirty work on the glass as West Linn found its stride in the second quarter.

After trailing 16-15 through eight minutes, West Linn heated up in the second period and would take a four-point lead into the locker room.

Freshman Anthony Mathis has been making a name for himself early in the year but he had a breakout performance on Monday against the Black Tornado.

Mathis led all scorers with 26 points and was the team's go-to player when it needed a clutch basket.

"He's just a guy who loves to play. For a freshman he's very confident. He knows this is what he should be doing," coach Eric Viuhkola said.

North Medford hung with the Lions for much of the second half but West Linn kept the Black Tornado at arm's length.

West Linn clung to a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but sealed the game with smart possessions to advance in the winner's bracket of the tournament.

In the semifinals, West Linn took on a strong team from Grant.

The Lions got off to an exceptionally hot start and that proved to be just enough to fend off the Generals.

West Linn was outscored in each of the final three quarters of the game but it made its 18-6 advantage in the opening stanza hold up in a 47-46 victory.

The Lions were active on both sides of the court early in the game and got off to a hot start shooting the ball to build a quick double-digit advantage.

But Grant withstood the early surge by the Lions and proceeded to steadily chip away at the lead.

After finding plenty of early success on offense in the first half, Grant tightened its defense after the break and West Linn struggled, particularly in its half-court sets.

"We got really passive and started playing not to lose," Viuhkola said.

Grant also started doing a better job rebounding in the second half which was something that West Linn hammered them with early on.

Grant cut West Linn's lead to one point in the closing seconds of the contest and fouled Mitch Cokley.

Cokley calmly knocked down two free throws with five seconds remaining.

The Generals would miss a half-court three-pointer with time still left on the clock and scored a tip-in at the buzzer but it wasn't enough.

"We have to shore things up at the end of the game and take care of the ball a little better," Viuhkola said.

Hawkins had another terrific outing for the Lions leading the team with a season-high 15 points. Cokley added 11 points to the effort.

West Linn took on tournament host Lakeridge in the championship game on Wednesday but results were not available at press time.