Fighting adversity, Gladstone guys find a way to keep their season going

Last week was a character builder for Gladstone High School's boys basketball team.

After escaping with a 48-37 win at North Marion in their Feb. 19 Tri-Valley Conference final, the short-handed Gladiators traveled to Cottage Grove for a Class 4A state play-off play-in game on Friday and upset the Lions 53-51.

The 14th-ranked Lions (14-10, 7-3) had finished second to Elmira (17-6, 9-1) in the Sky-Em League and they entered Friday's game with an 11-4 record in games played at home this season.

Gladstone (13-9, 5-5) had barely made the state playoffs, needing last week's win at North Marion to tie Madras (14-10, 5-5) for third place in the TVC.

And the Gladiators had to play the Lions without 6-4 junior forward Ryun Gibson, their top scorer and rebounder on the season. Gibson had been ejected just before halftime of the North Marion game when he got in an altercation with a North Marion player, and was ineligible to play on Friday.

Asked if he was surprised that his Gladiators knocked off the Lions, Gladstone coach Ted Yates said:

“Not at all.... We've got tough kids.”

After struggling to find the basket in the second quarter, the Gladiators had to battle from behind to defeat Cottage Grove. They got outscored 14-2 in the second period and trailed 24-13 at the intermission.

Gladstone closed the gap to 35-29 by the end of the third stanza. But the Lions remained in the driver's seat until they turned to a delay, while leading by five points with 3:49 to play.

“When they held the ball, we forced some turnovers and got some momentum going.

The Gladiators went on top briefly, but a Cottage Grove player hit a 3-pointer with 9.1 seconds remaining to knot the score at 51-all.

Yates called timeout. Senior guard Michael Stoutt took the inbound pass, brought the ball up the floor and fired a contested buzzer-beater from just inside the 3-point arc. Stoutt's prayer found the basket, and the Gladiators celebrated the upset.

Stoutt finished with a game- and season-high 26 points, hitting 9-of-17 shots from the floor, with three 3-pointers. Stoutt put 11 points on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

Handsome Smith (13 points) was the only other Gladiator player in double digits in scoring. Smith connect on 4-of-7 shots from the floor.

“This was by far Michael's best game of the year,” Yates said. “He's the reason we won this game and the North Marion game. When we had two kids ejected, he took over the North Marion game.”

Yates added, “It's good to have Michael back healthy again. He tweaked his knee in the La Salle game and it's taken him some time to get back to where he was. He's playing with a lot of confidence now.”

Yates also had praise for 6-0 junior post Ryan Fowler and for sophomore playmaking guard Handsome Smith.

“Ryan's been our post on jayvee,” Yates said. “He came in and sparked us in the third and fourth quarters. He came in and took a couple of charges and grabbed some rebounds.”

Yates said of Smith, “He had maybe his best game of the year. He played with a lot of confidence, got to the rim and scored 13 points.”

Defense proved the difference at North Marion, the Gladiators turned up the heat with their full-court press and stole the ball 21 times.

Koby Smith, Stoutt and Handsome Smith headed the defensive assault with 14 steals between them.

Stoutt (14 points) led nine Gladstone players who put points on the scoreboard.

The Gladiators went ahead in the second quarter and never relinquished the lead.

“It was a team effort,” Yates said. “Once again, it was everybody. All 12 kids.”

Yates praised junior forward Andrew Conway for providing a spark in the third quarter with a basket and a couple of steals. And he lauded sophomore Sean Williams for his rebounding and defensive play off the bench.

The Gladiators could have their hands full this Friday, when they play sixth-ranked Central (18-6, 6-4) on the road.

“I feel good about our chances,” Yates said. “We think we have a shot at anybody. If you look at our losses, we've been competitive in almost every game. Our biggest loss was by 17 points, to [fourth-ranked] Philomath, in our second game of the year.”

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