End of the road
By MATTHEW SHERMAN
West Linn's trip to the state tournament at the Rose Garden had its ups and downs last week, culminating with an appearance in the consolation finals.
The Lions would finish 1-2 in the tournament, losing a tough opening round game to North Medford 64-54, then rallying for an impressive 68-60 win over South Medford.
West Linn's season then ended the way it began, with a loss to Lincoln.
In the tournament opener, not much went right, particularly in the early going against South Medford but the Lions still made a fourth quarter run before coming up just short.
Some early jitters from the Lions resulted in the team uncharacteristically missing some easy shots.
North Medford raced out to a 13-2 lead with many of those points coming on putbacks from offensive rebounds.
"I kind of thought we blew a golden opportunity because that was a winnable game. If we played the way we had been over the past few weeks I think we could have won," coach Eric Viuhkola said.
Rebounding was a huge issue for West Linn all game. The Lions were beaten 36-27 on the boards and gave up 14 offensive rebounds.
But West Linn started to chip away at the lead.
Ryan Shearmire knocked down a three-pointer and a late turnover from North Medford led to a lay-up by Mario Shonkwiler, cutting the deficit to 21-14 after the opening period.
Devon Hawkins gave the Lions some much needed help inside and also knocked down a big three-pointer early in the second quarter for West Linn.
The Lions did a better job rebounding in the second quarter but still seemed out of sync at times defensively.
West Linn was able to cut the lead to just three points but then its rebounding woes emerged again. North Medford's Jordan Browne-Moore had 13 rebounds by himself in the first half.
"They just got to every loose ball and we didn't box out," Viuhkola said.
That led to a big run from the Black Tornado as they built a 32-22 halftime lead.
It didn't get much better in the third quarter as West Linn had four turnovers in the opening minutes. Riley Wilkerson and Shonkwiler also each picked up their third fouls within seconds of each other.
The lead got to as much as 16 for North Medford but the Black Tornado went a bit cold allowing the Lions to stay in the game.
Trailing by 12 with one quarter remaining, West Linn mounted one final run.
Shonkwiler scored a lay-up to make it an eight-point game and, on the next possession, Wilkerson scored on a pretty pass from Mitch Cokely, cutting the lead to six.
"There's no give-up in these guys. They definitely battled," Viuhkola said.
West Linn had North Medford on its heels but the Black Tornado recovered.
A bad turnover on an inbounds pass led to an easy hoop and the lead would stretch to 10 before Hawkins knocked down a three-pointer.
Shonkwiler scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth period but the Lions couldn't quite pull off the comeback.
In consolation, West Linn took on South Medford in its next game and, from the opening tip, looked like a completely different team.
"I don't know if it was playing in front of fewer people or having a game under our belts on that court but we really played well," Viuhkola said.
The Lions played with confidence and led for the majority of the game against the Panthers.
Shonkwiler had a nice game, leading the way with 18 points while doling out eight assists.
West Linn knocked down eight three-pointers in the game, getting three apiece from Shonkwiler and Keith Baggetta who played his best game of the tournament.
The Lions led by two at the end of the first quarter and were up 34-29 at the half.
West Linn also had success inside, getting 13 points from Shearmire and also eight points off the bench from C.J. Sitton.
The Lions steadily increased their lead in the third quarter and made a comeback difficult for the Panthers as they were terrific in getting to the foul line and knocking down those shots, knocking down 18 in the game.
"That's one of the best programs in the state and we have a ton of respect for them. I think we just played harder than they did," Viuhkola said.
The win kept West Linn alive in the tournament, advancing the Lions to take on Lincoln for fourth place.
West Linn saw the Cardinals in its first game of the season.
Once again, it was a rough first quarter that doomed the Lions.
Lincoln would begin the game with a 13-0 run and never really looked back.
After trading baskets with Lincoln the rest of the game and making a furious surge late in the fourth quarter, the Lions fell 78-70 to finish the season with a 15-15 record.
"We came out and they bullied us a little bit," Lions coach Eric Viuhkola said. "We played really poorly on the defensive end and took bad shots and turned the ball over, and we didn't rebound."
While the Cards were draining three-pointers and penetrating inside during their 13-0 run, their ability to pull down offensive rebounds and put the missed shots back up was devastating.
Lincoln had 11 of its 15 offensive boards in the first half.
The Lions finally awakened as the second quarter began, but the Cardinals were ready, matching them shot for shot to go into halftime with a 34-23 lead.
"I just reminded our guys the way we want to play," Viuhkola said. "It's got to be one possession at a time. There's no 11-point plays. We had to play our basketball. We weren't doing the things that make us successful."
The Lions were led by Hawkins' 14 points. Wilkerson scored 13 and Keith Baggetta had 12.
The Cards held on to a 50-38 lead going into the fourth quarter. The lead grew to 55-40 midway through the quarter.
West Linn then brought a full-court press and created confusion with its offensive rotations. That enabled the Lions to cut the gap to 63-58 with 3:40 remaining. West Linn was in the penalty by that time, though, and when Lincoln hit its free throws and the Lions cooled off from the field, West Linn's fate was sealed.
It was an impressive run for a West Linn team that came together and peaked at the right time.
"What was really great was how the community of West Linn really got behind these guys," Viuhkola said.
West Linn will lose four seniors from this year's team in Shonkwiler, Wilkerson, Baggetta and Conner Kelley but has an impressive young core to build around.
"It's going to be more of an inside-out team. I'm definitely looking forward to next year," Viuhkola said.
Stephen Alexander contributed to this story.