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Vikings fall to Jefferson in first round

Forest Grove boys battle tooth and nail but come up short in an 83-70 setback

PORTLAND — Sometimes, on any particular night, the other team is just a little bit better.NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove sophomore  Kyle Thompson goes up for a shot over Jefferson's Sage Leigh during last Wednesday's Class 6A first round state playoff game. Thompson scored seven points but the Vikings dropped an 83-70 decision to the Democrats that ended their season.

The Forest Grove boys basketball team did pretty much everything it could to keep pace with host Jefferson in last Wednesday’s Class 6A first round state playoff game. But the athletic and explosive Democrats had an answer to every Viking surge and prevailed, 83-70, to pull the curtain on Forest Grove’s season.

The 20th-seeded Vikings finished an impressive 2015-16 campaign at 15-10. On Saturday, No. 13 Jefferson upset No. 4 Central Catholic, 73-69, to improve to 18-8 and advance to this week’s state tournament at the Chiles Center in Portland.

“We battled tough. Give credit to them. They hit a lot of shots,” said Forest Grove senior Taylor Jensen, one of the night’s stars. “Eighty-three points is too much. You’re not going to beat a lot of teams when they score 83 points.”

The Demos are young this season — they count just one senior on their roster — but they are talented and seem to be on the upswing. After dropping three consecutive Portland Interscholastic League games in January, they rebounded to win seven in a row and claim a share of the conference title with Franklin.

They were ready from the get-go last Wednesday, especially junior guard Thomas Miles, who scored a whopping 20 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer to open the scoring. Those were two of his five points during Jefferson’s opening 10-2 run. That lead then swelled to 18-7 on a Miles drive to the basket.

“I thought that they attacked us a lot more aggressively than I’d seen them those last couple games, especially when we went to a 1-3-1 zone,” said Forest Grove head coach Greg Evers, who had done some scouting prior to the contest.

The Vikings finally started warming to their task late in the first, closing the period on a 10-0 run. Jensen took over for a time when he scored eight points in less than 1:30, and Alex Funk lifted the visitors within 18-17 with a drive to the hoop with about 30 seconds left.

The game continued to seesaw like that, but ultimately, the Demos had more runs in them than did the Vikings.

The second quarter started much as the first had, with Jefferson going on a run thanks to some solid long-distance shooting — the Demos were 8-for-20 on threes for the game — and the ability to drive to the basket. The hosts scored the first 14 points of the second quarter before Kyle Thompson finally ended Forest Grove’s drought with a drive midway through the quarter.

Jensen, who was frequently dazzling throughout, went on a six-point binge in a minute-plus span and then Funk hit a 3-pointer about 1:50 before halftime to get the Vikings within 38-28. Miles closed a 7-0 Demos run, though, with his second three of the quarter to put Jefferson up 45-28 at the break.

In the third, the Demos led by as many as 18 points on a couple different occasions. A big swing came late in the frame when the Vikings had the chance to get back within single digits. But Geno West was fouled on a long-distance attempt with 1:09 left. He made the shot and the ensuing free throw for a four-point play. Then Forest Grove was called for a moving screen the other way that negated a Bailey Evers three.

Still, the Vikings didn’t let their season end without one last push. An Evers 3-pointer got Forest Grove within 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, and then a five-point spurt by Kenny Balsiger, capped by two free throws with 3:03 remaining, got the visitors even closer, at 70-63.

But the Vikings had dug themselves too big of a hole, and Jefferson closed out the win with a 13-7 run the rest of the way.

“They did a lot of runs at tough times,” Jensen said. “We countered on the runs. Our last one was just too late.”

Jensen put the full versatility of his game on display in scoring a game-high 31 points. He converted everything from drives to the basket to 3-pointers, from offensive putbacks to layups off turnovers. He also put up 13 rebounds, three steals, a block and some assists in an excellent all-around effort.

“He willed our team into competing with those guys, for sure,” Greg Evers said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like without him, but I don’t look forward to that.”

Jefferson had four players in double figures. Miles quieted in the second half but still led the Demos with 24 points. West finished with 19, talented freshman Marcus Tsohonis added 17 and Dylan O’Brien chipped in 12.

For Forest Grove, brothers Ronnie and Kyle Thompson finished with seven points each, Bailey Evers had six, and Ben Godfrey, Funk and Balsiger added five apiece.

While it ended before the Vikings wanted, this season was still a great one in many respects. As Greg Evers pointed out, his team scored signature wins at Sunset and against McNary, which was ranked in the top 10 at the time. It was also quite a turnaround from the previous season’s 8-16 campaign.

“We were resilient. Each one of these guys love each other and it was fun,” Jensen said. “It hasn’t kicked in for me yet, but it’ll be a tough one to swallow here in the next few days or weeks.”