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Wildcats, Crusaders punch tickets to tournament

Westview dumps Thurston 68-51 and earns a berth in this week's 6A state tournament
by: Dan Brood SKY HIGH – Westview junior Cole Gatewood goes up over the Thurston defense to score on Saturday night.

ROCK CREEK - It's not like the Westview High School boys basketball team played a bad first half.

After all, the Wildcats held a 27-20 halftime lead over Thurston in Friday's postseason contest.

But Westview's play in the third quarter was simply amazing.

The determined Wildcats - eyeing a state tournament bid and looking to make amends for a less-than-stellar performance in their previous contest - pulled away from the Colts in a big, big way in the third quarter en route to getting a 68-51victory in their second-round Class 6A state playoff game on Friday at Westview High School.

'This was huge,' said Westview senior wing Phil Belding, who had five steals in the win. 'That's because our last game, against Century (a 62-60 state playoff first-round win) wasn't very good. That was a wake-up call. It's a lot better to go to the Rose Garden feeling good and confident.'

'We had all the energy we needed to get to the Rose Garden,' said Westview senior post Austin Kuemper, who scored 13 of his game-high 17 points in the Wildcats' decisive third quarter. 'We were mentally and physically tough.'

Thurston, the No. 2 team out of Special District 1, finished its season at 20-6. Westview, the Metro League runner-up, improved to 20-6 and advanced to the Class 6A state tournament, meeting South Medford last night (Wednesday) at the Rose Garden after the Valley Times press deadline.

'We expect to do well every game,' Belding said of state tournament.

If Westview won on Wednesday, it would face either North Medford or West Linn the state semifinals at 8:15 p.m. Friday. With a loss Wednesday, the Wildcats will North Medford or West Linn in a consolation semifinal starting at 10:45 a.m. today (Thursday).

In Friday's state playoff game, with a state tournament berth on the line, Thurston took a 10-8 lead when senior Jesse Diamond sank a three-point basket with 3 minutes and 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

But the Wildcats, getting baskets from Kuemper, senior guard Miles Gatewood and Belding, ended the period on a 6-0 run to take a 14-10 edge into the second quarter.

Westview kept the lead throughout the second quarter, but the Colts stayed close. In fact, Thurston trailed just 18-17 after it got a short-range jumper by senior Kraig Akins with 2:50 left before halftime.

The Wildcats answered right back. Westview senior guard T.J. Williams sank a three-pointer and he followed that up with a 10-foot jump shot off a drive. Westview senior post Blake Carlson then scored back-to-back baskets in the final minute of the second quarter to give the Wildcats a 27-20 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, Colt sophomore Caleb Wilson scored five points in the first 45 seconds to get the visitors within 28-25.

But that's when the Wildcats took charge - in impressive fashion.

Gatewood started things off with a three-point basket from the top of the circle. Kuemper followed with a bank shot off an assist from senior Malcom Jackson.

Then, after the Colts got another basket from Wilson, Westview scored eight unanswered points. Kuemper had six of those points, helping the Wildcats open up a 41-27 lead with 4:12 left in the quarter.

Westview didn't stop there, either. Kuemper scored five unanswered points later in the period and Gatewood followed with another three-pointer.

Wildcat sophomore Dyrall Goods then capped off the big quarter with five unanswered points of his own, connecting on a three-pointer and then a follow-up basket as the period buzzer sounded, giving Westview a 54-33 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

'We talked about coming out and playing strong in the third quarter,' Belding said. 'We were fired up.'

'We came out and did what we had to do,' said Kuemper, who went 4-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the period. 'We wanted to get the lead to 15, and then to 20.'

For the quarter, the Wildcats scored 27 points, making 9-of-15 shots from the field including three three-pointers. Westview also forced Thurston into seven turnovers in the period, with Belding coming up with three steals.

'Getting 27 points in the third quarter was absolutely huge,' Westview coach Pat Coons said. 'We felt that if we stayed with our pressure defense, we'd wear them down. And we insisted on getting the ball to Austin.'

Williams, Carlson and junior Keon Burns each scored four points for the Wildcats in the fourth quarter as they wrapped up their 68-51 victory and the state tournament bid that went with it.

'We all did our jobs on defense and we had some good stretches on offense,' Kuemper said. 'It was a good win. We knew that we needed to bring the energy and have good chemistry.'

'This is huge for us,' Coons said. 'This is such a good team, and this group has a lot of fun. We've gone through some ups and downs this season, but we got to the gravy at the end. We feel like we're deep and talented.'

Kuemper, who, like the other Westview starters, didn't play in the fourth quarter, had five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots to go with his game-high 17 points.

Gatewood added 12 points while Goods and Williams each had nine. Goods also had four rebounds and a pair of steals.

Belding, who scored four points, was a thorn in Thurston's side throughout the game with his five steals.

'I felt good out there tonight,' Belding said. 'And they were telegraphing their passes.'

'You have to have a guy who's not afraid to take those chances,' Coons said. 'And Phil's our guy for that.'

Westview, as a team, made 25-of-48 (52.1 percent) of its shots from the field in the win. The Wildcats also made 13-of-15 free-throw attempts, and they had just nine turnovers.

Diamond led Thurston with 13 points. Akins scored 11 points and senior Jacob Covert had 10. The Colts made 21-of-39 shots from the field and 5-of-6 free throws, and had 18 turnovers.