Cobras use suffocating defensive effort to upset Gaston in the first round of the state playoffs

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Gaston senior Austin Morey drives into the lane during Saturday's game against Central Linn.Gaston’s remarkable basketball season ended on a sour note Saturday, as visiting Central Linn used a smothering zone defense to take the Greyhounds out of their element and walk away with a 41-31 victory in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs.

“It was kind of hard to swallow,” Gaston head coach Marc Roche said. “I think everybody kind of expected to make it to the next round. It was disappointing in a lot of aspects, but it’s about who outplays who on that particular day, and Central Linn was the better team.”

Offensively, Gaston’s strength centered on 6-foot-4 post Austin Waibel, a high scoring force in the paint, plus the ability of guards Austin Morey and Saheat Berisha to create opportunities with dribble penetration.

Central Linn (20-7) countered that with a collapsing 3-2 zone that suffocated Waibel inside and forced the Greyhounds to shoot from long range. It was a great strategy on a night when Gaston (19-6) didn’t shoot particularly well, allowing the Cobras to build a big lead and play from ahead.

“They scouted us well and really made it difficult for us,” Roche said of Central Linn. “In the second half we started turning it up and playing a little bit better, but when you’re playing from behind you’re being riskier and we wound up getting into some foul trouble that was really costly.”

Both Morey and Berisha fouled out of the game in the second half, cutting short Gaston’s comeback effort. After trailing by 15 points at halftime, the Hounds got as close as nine in the second half before running out of steam.

“We’ve played from behind — we’ve done it a lot this year — but it just seemed like every time we would get a couple buckets they’d have an answer,” Roche said. “Central Linn is a very good team. I think they have a chance to win a trophy at state.”

The Cobras advanced to the eight-team state tournament, which begins Thursday in Pendleton. Central Linn, the No. 12 seed, will face 13th-seeded Regis (15-12) in a quarterfinal matchup at 3:15 p.m.

For Gaston, an outstanding season ended one win short of the team’s season-long goal.

“This group really wanted to get to Pendleton and take that next step,” Roche said. “You do so many good things all season, but what do you remember last? Unfortunately only one team gets to come out on top, only one team gets to end their season with a win.”

Despite the solemn mood in the locker room, Roche said he tried to keep the loss in perspective for his players.

“It was a quiet locker room. We were trying to keep them positive, but even for myself it was tough to see the big picture,” Roche said.

“This was a fantastic season. We had so many great wins, so many close games and come-from-behind victories. We played a game in the Moda Center, we were league champs. It was just such an awesome experience and no one can take that away from these guys.”

Saturday’s loss marked the final game for seniors Waibel, Morey, Berisha, Connor Chervin and Abraham Diaz.While Roche will certainly miss their contributions, he had high praise for a group that helped resurrect Gaston basketball.

“They helped bring a whole new level of excitement in the community for our program,” Roche said. “Beyond even the wins and losses, the style of how hard these seniors played and all the things they did really raised the bar for this program.

“Next year it will be a different group of guys, but the expectations will continue to be high because of what these seniors accomplished.”

Their biggest legacy, Roche said, may be felt by a younger generation of Gaston basketball players.

“I remember as a little kid I couldn’t wait to grow up and get my opportunity to take the floor for the Gaston basketball program,” Roche said. “I see the young kids at these games and how much they look up to these guys. There’s a sense of excitement about the program and I think that will have a big effect on the younger kids who are still coming up.”

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