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Timberwolves step up at state

Boys basketball: Tualatin goes out in a big way with its 47-43 tourney win over South Medford
by: DAN BROOD, TUALATIN TRIUMPHS — Tualatin junior post Anthony Freeman, Jr., looks to power his way up to the basket against South Medford in the state tournament fourth-place game.

EUGENE - A trophy.

A lot of smiling faces.

Promises of a bright future.

And an impressive win over a state powerhouse.

There might not have been a better way for the Tualatin High School boys basketball team to end its season.

The unranked Timberwolves finished their season by scoring a 47-43 win over No. 4 ranked, and defending state champion, South Medford in the fourth-place game of the Class 6A state tournament Saturday at McArthur Court.

'It's a perfect end to a perfect season,' Tualatin senior Matt Losli said after the victory. 'This is just a great group of guys. I couldn't ask for a better way to go out.'

'I'm definitely happy,' Tualatin senior Jordan Highland said with a big smile on his face. 'It's a good way to go out.'

Tualatin, which also played Grant and Barlow at the state tournament (see related stories), finished its season with an overall record of 21-6. The fourth-place finish at state is the second-best ever placing for a Tualatin boys basketball team. And, with the win over South Medford, this year's Timberwolf squad became the school's first boys hoop team to finish its season with a postseason victory.

'Not bad at all,' Tualatin senior Mick Bies said. 'For an unranked team, that's pretty good.'

'It was a great way to finish up,' Tualatin coach Rick Osborn said. 'This may be one of the best seasons we've had. It's been such a joy to coach these guys all season long.'

And that season was capped off with the hard-fought win over South Medford.

'As a senior, I was worried coming into this game,' Bies said. 'I didn't want to end with a loss.'

Thanks to a strong defensive effort, there was no need to worry.

No. 4-ranked South Medford held a 23-20 lead over the Timberwolves at halftime of the fourth-place game.

'That's like a 0-0 game to us,' Bies said. 'We knew we just had to go out and take care of business.'

South Medford continued to cling to its slim lead throughout most of the third quarter - but the Panthers could never pull away from Tualatin.

The Wolves got a three-point basket from junior post Brandon Troxel off an assist from junior post Anthony Freeman, Jr., to get within three of South Medford, at 28-25, with 6 minutes and 6 seconds left in the period.

Then, after a basket by South Medford junior Mitch Singler, the Wolves pulled even closer, at 30-28, when Bies buried a three-pointer off a pass from Losli.

The Panthers held a 34-30 lead following a jumper by senior Josh Aguirre coming with just over two minutes left in the quarter, but Tualatin, getting a follow-up basket by Troxel and a foul-line jumper by junior Eric Kjemperud, tied the game at 34-34 going into the fourth quarter.

Troxel, and the Tualatin defense, then took over the game in the final stanza.

Troxel scored the first five points of the fourth quarter, while the Timberwolf defense kept South Medford from scoring in the first four minutes of the period. That left the Wolves with a 39-34 lead.

Senior Zach Haveman ended the Panthers' fourth-quarter scoreless skid with a three-pointer coming with 3:36 left to play in the game. Troxel followed with a pair of foul shots to give Tualatin a 41-37 lead with 3:07 remaining.

That's when the Timberwolf defense really stepped up. South Medford, in its ensuing possession, ate nearly a minute of the clock trying to get a shot off.

'In those last minutes, we were really moving our feet and it made it really tough for them,' Osborn said. 'I felt with how our defense was playing, we'd make them run enough time off the clock.'

South Medford cut the Tualatin lead to 41-39 on a pair of free throws by E.J. Singler coming with 1;29 left to play. But Troxel, who scored Tualatin's first nine points of the fourth quarter, answered with a pair of free throws of his own to quickly push the lead back to four.

A jumper by Mitch Singler and a free throw by Tualatin junior guard Brian Symonds left the Wolves with a 44-41 lead with 55.9 seconds left to play. Troxel, who was fouled after grabbing a defensive rebound, again went 2-for-2 from the free throw line to up the margin to 46-41 with 52.6 seconds remaining.

But South Medford wouldn't give up. The Panthers got a pair of free throws by senior guard Michael Harthun to cut the lead to 46-43 with 16.1 seconds left. Then, after a pair of missed Tualatin free throws, South Medford got the ball back, and a chance to tie the game, with 14 seconds remaining.

E.J. Singler missed a three-point attempt with seven seconds left and Highland grabbed the rebound. He was fouled with 5.2 seconds remaining and he went to the foul line with a chance to put the game away for Tualatin.

Highland missed his first foul shot, with South Medford calling a time out following the miss.

But it was a determined Highland to stepped back up to free throw line after the time out.

'After I missed the first one, I said I didn't want to end on that,' Highland said. 'I didn't even feel the last one leave my hand.'

Highland's second free throw hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

'When it went in, I was like 'Yes!'' Highland said.

E.J. Singler missed a desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer, leaving Tualatin with the four-point win and the fourth-place trophy.

'It was fun being out there playing with a great team in front of a great crowd,' Troxel said.

Troxel, who was named to the all-tournament second team, was a big part of the victory as he scored 11 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter.

'We needed some buckets,' Troxel said of his fourth-quarter outburst. 'And we played good defense.'

'Defense was the key,' Bies said. 'Jordan Highland did a great job on E.J. Singler. He put the clamp down.'

Highland and the rest of the Wolves limited Singler, who scored 30 points in a fourth-place semifinal win over Central Catholic on Friday, to just eight points.

'The goal was to deny him the ball at all times and get physical with him,' Highland said.

Bies added nine points for Tualatin. Losli pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.

Mitch Singler led South Medford with 12 points. E.J. Singler had 10 rebounds to go with his eight points.

The fourth-place victory marked the final high school game for Tualatin seniors Highland, Bies, Losli, Jordan Barendse and Xavier Reed.

'They were the leaders of the team,' Troxel said of the seniors. 'They kept us all in check.'

For Bies, who missed his junior season due to injury, the season was extra special.

'Last year was hard,' he said. 'But to have a year like this erases that.'

The Wolves look to have a strong group eligible to return next year. That group includes Troxel, Freeman, Taylor Hart, Alex Murray, Symonds and Kjemperud among others.

'We came on strong this year, now we want to go for the title next year,' Troxel said.

'With the legacy our seniors left, we can achieve even more next year,' Osborn said.