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PREPS: Jefferson Democrats show why they're No. 1

Late-game heroics, defense and free throws put away Clackamas in OSAA 6A title game

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Jefferson Democrats hoist their state championship trophy Saturday at Chiles Center.Geno West and Thomas Miles wouldn't be denied.

Pushed to the finish by Clackamas on Saturday, it was the two Jefferson seniors who pulled the Democrats across the finish line to the school's first Class 6A boys basketball title.

West scored 28 points and Miles 20 as top-ranked Jefferson survived a stiff test from third seed Clackamas, 70-67, at Chiles Center.

Jefferson finished the season 27-1, the only loss coming to Gonzaga College from Washington, D.C.

"I had no doubt," West said. "I believe in my teammates and the coaching staff, and we came prepared so I knew we weren't going to lose."

West scored nine of the Democrats' final 13 points and had an assist on the other field goal down the stretch.

His 3-pointer from deep on the right wing put Jefferson ahead to stay at 62-60 with 2:50 on the clock.

"It was just the heat of the moment," West said of his decision to shoot from several feet behind the 3-point line. "We needed it. I hit it, and everything played out from there."

The Democrats turned over the ball on their next possession, but after a defensive stop West fed Amari Stafford for a layup and a four-point lead.

Six free throws in the final minute — four from West and two from Kamaka Hepa — denied Clackamas a shot at any final-second dramatics.

"One key is we were able to finish down the stretch, hitting free throws and getting stops," Jefferson coach Pat Strickland.

The key focus of the Jefferson coaches was on the defensive end, where Miles, Zyshawn Strickland and Robert Ford took turns defending Clackamas guard Elijah Gonzales.

"It was tough keeping him contained," Miles said. "We were really just trying to make him work and make him go left."

Cole Turner had 17 points and seven rebounds for Clackamas, and 6-9 Matt O'Brien had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

But it helped Jefferson when the Portland State-bound Gonzales was hampered by foul trouble, picking up his two quick fouls in the first quarter and his fourth with 5:37 left in the third quarter.

Still, Gonzales finished with 22 points in his 22 minutes. Big, West said, was limiting him to 1-for-6 shooting on 3-pointers. His one made 3 came with 15 seconds left to pull the Cavaliers within three points.

But Hepa, who struggled on offense and did not score from the floor, made two foul shots with 11 seconds remaining that secured the win.

Despite his offensive struggles, the 6-9 Hepa was a defensive presence and pulled down 15 rebounds — 14 on the defensive end.

"Going into the game, I knew I had to be aggressive," Hepa said. "Although I wasn't getting it going on the offensive end, I knew I could impact the game on the defensive end and by rebounding."

As Miles said: "We won all of our games with our defense and our transition (offense)."

The fast-break attack was held in check. Neither team was credited with a fast-break point, though Grant did score off secondary break chances on several occasions.

Still, it wasn't the free-flowing offensive show the Democrats put on teams routinely this winter. They shot 37 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range.

West and sophomore Marcus Tsohonis both took and missed quick 3s early in the fourth quarter during a 10-2 Clackamas spurt that gave the Cavs a four-point lead.

"When the shots aren't falling, we're going to play our defense and get it done on that end," said Tsohonis, who was limited to six points and was 0 for 3 from 3-point range.

Miles, who had 13 first-half points to carry the early scoring load, delivered a baseline drive for a three-point play to pull Jefferson within one.

"Whichever way they closed out I was just going to attack. Depending how they closed out I was just going to attack the other side," Miles said of his aggressive drives.

After four more lead changes, West hit his deep 3 to put Jefferson ahead for good.

"I was almost going to cry," West said of his reaction in the final seconds. "Last game of my senior year going out on top with my guys.  It was just amazing."

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