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PREPS: Clackamas leads all the way, holds off Central Catholic, 66-63

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cole Turner (right) and Ben Massinger (center) defend a move to the basket by Central Catholic's LaMar Winston during Friday night's Mt. Hood Conference game at Clackamas.Ben College, Central Catholic High’s best outside shooter, took a final dribble just outside the 3-point line and began to go up for a shot at sending the game into overtime.

As he tried to lift the ball into shooting position, though, the Clackamas Cavaliers stripped him of it.

Game over.

And Mt. Hood Conference superiority — for now — belongs to the Cavs.

“I got fouled,” College said.

His coach, David Blue, agreed.

“It was a bang-bang call,” Blue said. “I thought their guy hit Ben on his arm. A guy put his hand in the cookie jar and didn’t get caught. Our guy was fouled.”

And, Blue added, if College had been able to get off the shot, “He would have made it.”

The Rams’ problem, however, for much of Friday night’s game at Clackamas was their inability to make shots against a determined Cavaliers defense. Central Catholic, which came into the game ranked No. 2 in Class 6A by the Oregon School Activities Association, got off to a horrendous shooting start, with too many turnovers to boot. Clackamas scored the game’s first four points and never trailed.

The Rams made things interesting, though, after trailing 56-46 with less than 3 1/2 minutes to go. And, given their late surge, Blue was all blue skies after his team’s five-game win streak (by an average of 19.2 points) came to an end.

“Frustrated? It wasn’t frustrating at all,” the first-year CC coach said. “It’s Friday night basketball. Two great teams. It doesn’t get any better than that. The only thing that would have been better is to get a win.”

College, a senior wing, wasn’t so chipper after emerging from his team’s postgame debriefing.

“We just weren’t making shots. It’s very frustrating,” he said.

The Cavs avenged a 74-72 loss to CC in the Les Schwab Invitational on Dec. 30. They are the only unbeaten team in the MHC — 4-0 in the MHC and 11-3 overall. They have won five in a row since that Schwab setback.

The Rams are 3-1 in the conference and 10-4 for the season.

As of Saturday morning, Central Catholic had dropped a notch to third in the OSAA state rankings, with Clackamas still at No. 7.

The teams will meet once more in the regular season. Clackamas visits Central Catholic on Friday, Feb. 12.

“They’re a great team,” College said. “I like playing against them. It’s going to be a good battle the next time we play them.”

Round 1 of their two-game league series was a 32-minute uphill battle for the visiting team. A portent came in the first three minutes, as the Rams missed their first five shots from the field, committed four turnovers, gave up an offensive rebound and fell behind 8-3.

Clackamas led 17-10 and was going for a last shot in the quarter when the Rams got a couple of steals and scored four points in a matter of seconds to cut the gap to 17-14.

“The first quarter, we got probably every shot we wanted,” Blue said. “Sometimes shots don’t go.”

The Cavs were leading 28-23 when their 6-9 junior post man, Matt O’Brien, got tangled up near a basket, went down hard, holding his left ankle, and had to be helped off the court — done for the night.

Central Catholic failed to capitalize, due in large part to the Cavs’ relentless push up the court, led by the play of super-quick 5-9 junior point guard Elijah Gonzales, who scored a game-high 31 points. Numerous times after a Rams score, Gonzales drove into or past the CC defense for an immediate answer.

“Their two guards are quite a pair — they push it,” Blue said. “We had some breakdowns in regard to trying to pick them up too high, and some of the helper stuff just wasn’t there (around the basket).”

While Gonzales’ energy was the sparkplug, the Cavaliers fired up a solid team effort, as well, and 6-2 senior wing Beau Gunderson added 17 points.

For the Rams, College scored 16 points, 6-1 junior guard Amari Hale had 15, and 6-3 senior wing Simon Stringer tallied 13.

Clackamas led 63-56 with 43 seconds to go. Then Stringer got into the lane for a jumper and hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left after Gonzales fumbled the ball out of bounds.

A goaltending call with 14.4 seconds remaining gave Clackamas a 65-61 advantage, but Hale made a layup and the Rams called a timeout at the 5.4-second mark.

Central Catholic intentionally fouled Fink, who made the first of two free throws, giving Clackamas a three-point edge.

The Rams rebounded his miss and, with no time to lose, managed to get the ball into College’s hands for a potential 3-point look.

But, thanks to the Cavaliers’ defense, a potential look was all he got.

“I’m really proud of my guys,” Blue said. “We lost to a hot team in a hostile environment. Some of those 50-50 possessions didn’t go our way, but our guys fought hard and to the end.”