The Pioneers make school history, but they fall one game short of their hoped for first state title
by: Gary Elam, Even a little clutch-and-grab defense couldn't slow down Oregon City's Brad Tinsley during the Class 6A tournament. He finished his high school career second all-time among all big-school scorers with 2,385 points.

EUGENE - The athletes on Oregon City's boys basketball team didn't quite have the storybook ending to their dream season that they had hoped for, as they fell to the eighth-ranked Grant Generals 63-56 in Saturday's championship final of the Class 6A State High School Basketball Tournament.

Ranked the top team in the state nearly the entire season, the Pioneers were understandably disappointed that they had fallen short of gaining their school its first state championship in boys basketball.

But they left McArthur Court with their heads held high. They had given their all in the final game of a history making season, and fallen just short of accomplishing their ultimate goal of bringing the championship hardware home to Oregon City.

It was still a one-point game with under a minute to play. But the PIL co-champion Generals answered Oregon City misses with free throws to salt the game away.

'I thought we played pretty good,' said Oregon City senior point guard Brad Tinsley. 'Our defense wasn't great. But the guys played hard all the way. [Grant was] just the better team, at least tonight they were….

'I've seen Grant play several times and this is the best I've seen them play.'

'It was our best game [of the season] by far,' said Grant 6-8 junior post Michael Moser.

'We were just a shot or two short of getting it done tonight,' said Oregon City coach Mike Doherty. 'We made a run and nearly pulled it out. The guys battled hard to the end. They just couldn't quite get it done.'

'[Losing tonight] sucks,' said Oregon City senior wing Kamal Smith. 'After all the success we had this year. It just sucks.'

'We went out there and played tough,' said Oregon City 6-10 senior post Sammy Schafer. 'We represented Oregon City well. Grant played great though. They got it done at the end, when it counted.'

The Pioneers advanced to the final with Grant through state tournament wins over second-ranked Southwest Conference champion South Medford (70-49) and over fourth-ranked Sunset (62-58), the champion in the Metro League.

It's only the second time in school history that an Oregon City boys basketball team has reached a state final. The last time was way back in 1945, when a Pioneer team coached by Dan Jones lost to Portland's Washington High School in the final.

Despite the heartbreaking loss to Grant, the Pioneers set a new school record for season wins, finishing up the 2007-08 season with a 28-2 record. The old record was set in 1938-39, when an Oregon City team went 25-9.

Oregon City's only other loss this season was to Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, Calif., a team that is ranked No. 5 in the nation.

It's only the fourth time in school history that an Oregon City High School boys basketball team has placed at state. Oregon City coach Mike Doherty coached the Pioneers to sixth place in 2004 and a team coached by Clif Wegner placed third in 1989. The Pioneers this year went undefeated in the Three Rivers League for the first time in the history of the league, which dates back to the early 1980's.

'It feels great [that we set a new school record for wins],' said Smith. 'But I still wish we had the championship.'

'I think this is going to put Oregon City High School boys basketball back on the map, and get some of the attention away from the girls….,' said Schafer. 'I've had a lot of fun this year. There's nothing better than doing something you really like with guys you love.'

Tinsley and Schafer were both named to the five-player first team of tournament all-stars, along with Moser of Grant, Sunset senior Garrett Sim and South Medford senior E.J. Singler. Tinsley and Sim were unanimous selections.

'It feels pretty good [to make the all-tournament team],' said Tinsley. 'But it really doesn't mean a lot. What really matters when it comes down to it is if you win or lose, and we didn't get it done tonight.'

Tinsley and Schafer came on strong for the Pioneers in the title game. Tinsley scored a game-high 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting - with two 3 pointers - and he grabbed nine rebounds.

Schafer scored 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, claimed nine rebounds and took a couple of charges to gain the Pioneers extra possessions.

But their teammates struggled to find the basket, going a combined one-of-14 from the field.

'We came out nervous and tentative,' said Smith. 'We worked hard, but we couldn't get our shots to drop.'

It was the first appearance in a state tournament for all of Oregon City's players, which might account for some of their nerves. The Generals were more seasoned. Many of their players were on a team that played in a trophy game a year ago.

The first half of Saturday night's final was tight all the way, with Tinsley and Schafer doing most of the damage for Oregon City with their aggressive play around the basket. Grant kept pace with sharp outside shooting. Four different Grant players combined for five 3-pointers in the first period.

The Generals led 34-33 at halftime.

It was still a one-point game, with Grant leading 43-42, with just over three minutes remaining in the third period. But that's where the Generals made their move.

Moser answered two missed shots and two Oregon City turnovers with a close-in basket and a 3-pointer to make it 48-42 Grant heading into the final period.

Moser scored on a drive to the basket following a steal by senior forward Paul McCoy to start the fourth quarter, and the Pioneers found themselves trailing 50-42.

And things looked grim when the Generals upped the gap to 55-46 when McCoy took the ball to the basket for a 3-point play with just 3:31 remaining.

But the Pioneers refused to give in without a fight.

A 3-pointer by Tinsley and a 3-point play by Schafer trimmed the gap to 55-52.

McCoy made it 57-52 on a drive to the basket with 1:37 left.

Following a timeout, the Pioneers turned to a full-court press. And it got results.

The Generals were called for traveling and Schafer hit a pair of gifters to make it 57-54 with 1:08 left.

Schafer stole the inbounds pass. He missed a fast-break lay-up, but Tinsley was there for the put-back, trimming the gap to 57-56 with 1:02 remaining.

But that was the Pioneers' last hurrah.

Grant reserve Daniel Collins hit two free throws with 42 seconds left. And, following a miss on a 3-point attempt by Tinsley, Moser sank a pair of charity tosses with 16 ticks left on the clock to up the gap to 61-56.

A 3-point attempt by Oregon City senior forward Bryce Kinney fell off the mark. And Grant senior guard Michael James rubbed salt in the Pioneers' wounds when he closed out the game with a dunk as time ran out.

James complimented the Pioneers following the game: 'That's a great team. They executed well. They never gave up. They played hard to the end. We hit some shots down the stretch and made our free throws. That was the difference.'

Moser (20 points, 13 rebounds), James (17 points) and McCoy (13 points) paced the Generals in scoring.

Oregon City earned a 29-28 edge in rebounding. But the Pioneers had 15 turnovers, five more than the Generals.

Grant shot at a .423 clip (22-of-52) from the field - with seven 3-pointers; and the Generals made 12-of-14 (.857) free throws.

The Pioneers went 20-for-46 (.435) from the field - with two 3-pointers, and they made 14-of-20 (.700) free throws.

Grant finished the year with an overall record of 22-6. It was the Generals' first state title since 1988.

It will be a re-building year for the Pioneers next season, with starters Tinsley, Schafer, Smith and Kinney lost to graduation, along with reserves Tyler Kirchhofer, Dwayne Guisinger and Casey Poore.

But eight Oregon City players will return from this year's state tournament roster, including juniors Ryan Huntting (5-10 starting guard) and Alex Seigal (6-0 guard); sophomores Brycen Driver (5-11 guard), Trevor Ferguson (6-4 wing), Tyler Ferguson (6-2 wing), Taylor Meyrick (6-5 post) and Scott Willey (6-3 wing); and freshman Jimi Schafer (6-4 post). And some talented young players up from a freshmen team that went 18-5 this winter will figure in the mix, challenging for roles on varsity.

Asked if the returning Pioneers might have a chance of getting back to McArthur Court, Tinsley said: 'Most definitely. We had two juniors on varsity this year who were really solid guards, and the sophomore class is talented and deep. They can do a lot to improve their chances if they do some work in the weight room and practice in the off-season….'

Doherty has had three state champions in a long and successful coaching career in which his teams have compiled a combined record of 787-349.

One of the highlights of this year's state tournament was the recognition of the players from Doherty's first state championship team [McNary, 1968] at halftime of the Pioneers' semifinal game this year.

Afterwards, eight players from that team met with Oregon City players in the locker room.

'It was pretty sweet,' said Tinsley. 'It's been 40 years and those guys are still champions on the inside. It was pretty exciting.'

Reed Ritchey, a team captain on the 1968 state championship McNary team, told Oregon City's players: 'This will forever be a highlight of your life. Whatever it takes to win tomorrow, you've got to give it everything you've got.'

The Pioneers did just that. But it wasn't quite enough.

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