TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Franklin High senior Joseph Smoyer (left) blocks a layup by Lincoln's Mujeeb Rufai in a PIL game last month. The 6-11 Smoyer has led the Quakers to second place with three games remaining.Jefferson and Grant possibly have received more attention, both before and during the season, but Franklin isn’t going away in the Portland Interscholastic League boys basketball race.

Last Friday, the Quakers pulled away from Cleveland in the fourth quarter to win a key game 63-48 and stay solidly in the PIL title hunt.

Franklin’s 9-4 league record trails only Jefferson (9-3). Grant is 8-4, Cleveland 7-5, Lincoln 7-5, Wilson 6-6 and Roosevelt 6-6.

The 16-game league slate runs through Feb. 23, and Franklin has only one game left against one of the teams still in the race for an Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A playoff berth. The Quakers will end their regular season at home against Roosevelt, after visiting Madison (3-1) on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and playing host to Benson (0-11) on Friday, Feb. 19.

Jefferson has to get by Grant, Cleveland, Lincoln and Wilson.

So, does Franklin coach Jeffrey McGee consider his team top dog in the PIL?

“Not really,” he says. “Our mindset is every time we play we just want to get better.”

Jefferson — ranked 16th by the OSAA, just behind No. 15 Grant — does have the head-to-head edge on the 14th-ranked Quakers, having beaten them 72-42 and then 57-56.

“I think we learned something from those games,” McGee says. “We learned you have to bring the intensity in this league, and we’re a team to be reckoned with.

“It’s one game at a time, and we can only control our own destiny, but we hope to win out, and we don’t fear anybody going into the playoffs.”

Franklin was up and down in last week’s game at Cleveland, but in the end the Quakers had a big “up” that turned a close game — and possible defeat — into a comfortable victory.

The Quakers jumped to a 9-0 lead on the Warriors, but gradually lost their momentum and were outscored by 14 points from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter. Cleveland had a 44-39 lead with less than five minutes to go. But from that point on, the Warriors coughed up the ball repeatedly and continued to struggle from the field and free-throw line. Franklin caught fire and went on a 22-2 run that gave the Quakers 61-46 edge inside the final minute. Cleveland managed to make only one basket over a stretch of about six minutes.

“We expected it to be a barnburner, and it really was,” McGee says. “Coach (Don) Emry always gets his (Cleveland) team ready to play, and it’s the Southeast Portland rivalry. But we play pretty good when we press, and especially when we press and don’t foul, and I think our press down the stretch was the key. We sped them up a little bit, made them play a little faster than they like to do.”

The other big difference was Franklin’s 6-11 defensive presence in senior Joseph Smoyer, who dissuaded or altered various Cleveland shots, while scoring 19 points despite some inconsistent shooting. Khalil Chatman, a 6-7 sophomore forward, added 14 points, and 6-2 sophomore guard Marcus Cunningham, an all-league linebacker, tossed in 10.

Cleveland got 17 points from sophomore guard Rowan Anderson, but the Warriors were only 13 of 35 on 2-point attempts and 4 of 12 from 3-point range for an overall shooting percentage of .361 — and the Warriors’ big men were a combined 0 for 15.

The University of Portland-bound Smoyer “does what he does,” McGee says.

Franklin is 11-9 overall, a record that includes a 1-3 mark at the Max Preps Holiday Classic in Southern California.

“We lost to some top-tier talent down there,” McGee says, “but I think that trip was really good for us, not just as a way to bond as a team but also because we got to see that kind of competition.”

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