The West Linn boys basketball team played in a pair of closely contested games while hosting its annual invitational tournament, falling to Southridge before rebounding with a victory over Aloha.
The 52-49 win over the Warriors was just the Lions' second victory of the season and West Linn had to earn in. Trailing by four points heading into the final quarter, the Lions rallied behind some tough defense and the play of Justin Monahan.
Monahan has been the Lions' go-to player in the fourth quarter early in the season and, after West Linn was able to knot up the score, he took over again.
Monahan made a steal and took it the other way for a lay-in, hit a three-pointer on the Lions' next possession and finished the spurt with another steal, giving his team a slim advantage.
'Justin came up big for us. He kind of took over for a stretch,' coach Aaron Downs said.
West Linn has struggled mightily shooting the ball in games this year and it nearly did them in against Aloha. Down the stretch the Lions only hit four of 11 free throws but defense and rebounding preserved the victory.
Spencer Flores and Max Cathcart each had solid games against Aloha and Southridge during the invitational.
Against the Warriors, that duo had the task of guarding the opponent's 6'10 post and they were able to contain him in the second half.
'We were able to neutralize him and force him outside,' Downs said.
Monahan led West Linn with 16 points, followed by Ryan Barnes with 10.
That win came one night after a difficult 70-67 loss to a quick and athletic Southridge team that hounded the Lions with its pressure all night.
'That's what they do. They've made some teams look silly this year,' Downs said about Southridge.
West Linn got off to a quick start, dominating in the paint in the opening quarter. Flores proved difficult to stop, scoring 10 points and pulling down four rebounds in the first minutes. Meanwhile, Cathcart added six points of his own.
'Our goal was to go inside. We knew we out-sized them,' Flores said.
That helped the Lions take an early 21-16 lead. West Linn continued to control the paint in the second quarter, yielding very few second chances for the Skyhawks. However, the Lions couldn't pull away as their shooting touch went ice cold.
West Linn missed its first 12 field goal attempts in the quarter and also missed its first five free throws of the game. A three-point play by Barnes finally broke the streak. Barnes had eight of his team's 12 points in the quarter as the Lions still clung to a five-point lead at the half.
After the break, Southridge upped its pressure on West Linn's guards and its half-court trap worked well. The Lions turned the ball over five times in the period and allowed the Skyhawks to quickly erase the deficit and build a small lead of their own.
'I think we made some poor shot choices and the turnovers hurt us,' Flores said.
Again, West Linn's rebounding kept it in the game, but the Lions trailed 46-45 with one quarter to play.
The final quarter went back and forth as the lead switched hands multiple times. Monahan took over on offense, scoring 10 points in the period which included hitting all four of his free throw attempts.
Flores continued to be a major presence, pulling down four more of his team-high 14 rebounds. But Southridge played nearly mistake free, rarely turning the ball over and hitting 11 of 12 free throws in the final eight minutes to keep the Lions at arm's length.
Southridge took a three-point lead late in the game and West Linn's final shot to tie the game rattled out, giving the Skyhawks the victory.
'There were a few 50/50 plays in the fourth quarter that didn't go our way. It was frustrating,' Downs said.
Flores led West Linn with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Cathcart had 10 points and nine rebounds to the effort.
On Tuesday, the Lions traveled to South Salem to take on the Saxson's and last season's player of the year in the Valley Conference.
South Salem threw a tight zone defense at the Lions to help shore up its height disadvantage. This opened up the court for West Linn's shooters and, on this night, the team simply couldn't buy a basket.
'We got great looks we just couldn't hit anything. We were dominating the glass but we just needed a couple shots to drop,' Downs said.
West Linn barely shot 10% from behind the arc as the Saxson's dared the team to shoot all evening. South Salem took a quick lead but the Lions battled back to tie the game at 25 at the end of the first half.
'I liked that we never gave up. It was a rowdy crowd and a good atmosphere,' Downs said.
Again, West Linn's big men played well, particularly Tommy Patrick off the bench.
In the second half, the Saxsons packed the key even more tightly as the Lions held a significant rebounding edge. South Salem opened the half on a 9-2 run and never looked back.
'They were scrappy and they just wanted it more. This team just needs to find an identity soon,' Downs said.
West Linn has one more game before a two-week break. The Lions will travel to South Eugene this evening (Thursday).