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Boys' basketball: Indians can clinch playoffs with a win over Astoria

Scappoose has lost their last four, but can still ensure they see the post season by knocking off the Fishermen on Feb. 21


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Senior guard Tracy Scruggs fights past the Seaside defense for a layup during the Indians' loss to the Gulls on Feb. 18. Scappoose controls their own destiny moving forward: if they win, they're in the playoffs for sure.Less than two weeks ago, the Indians were riding a four game winning streak, filled with dramatic moments, overtime victories and heart stopping buzzer beaters.

Then, the doldrums.

Scappoose has lost their last four leading up to the regular season finale on Friday, Feb. 21 against Astoria, and have gone from chasing first place in the Cowapa League to fighting for positioning for the final playoff spot.

As it stands, they can guarantee a berth in the league playoffs, where the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds play for a shot at the play-in round. That comes with a win over the Fishermen, which would ensure the Indians finished a game ahead of fifth-place Banks, who can do no better than 4-6.

Banks has a much harder road. Astoria is dead last in the Cowapa League, but the Braves' opponent is league-leading Tillamook. The Cheesemakers have won all nine of their league games so far, including both against Scappoose.

The struggle for the Indians, though, is a mental one. After the high of their four-game winning streak came crashing down with a tough loss at home to Banks, Scappoose has struggled to play consistent defense, averaging more than 60 points a game on the defensive side.

On the other end of the floor, the scoring pace is off the mark. That, according to head coach Rahim Tufts, has everything to do with belief.

“When shots aren't falling, our confidence has gone down a little bit,” he said. “But we're getting good looks, so it's frustrating. The kids are frustrated too, because we're missing layups.”

When the offense is struggling, about the only thing a team can do is batten down the hatches and play tough defense, simply waiting out the offensive slump until field goals start going in once again. One end of the court has to carry the other, at times, in order to balance things out.

“You've just got to play through it,” said Tufts. “Focus on defense and focus on what we can control. When shots aren't falling, we've got to be disciplined on the defensive end, and for the most part we've done that, but we've had lapses.”

Those lapses have turned into painful losses over the last two weeks, three against opponents the Indians have already beaten this year. Two of those games were at home, where Scappoose has been good since the early part of the season. Now, they'll have to get back on the horse one more time to knock off Astoria, but it won't be an easy task.

Last time, it took some magic from senior Mitch Davis to beat the Fishermen, ending in a 63-57 victory for Scappoose. It was after that contest that the magic seemed to run out for the Indians, but the team has a few things up their collective sleeves for the season finale.

As the team is gearing up for one of their bigger games of the year, Tufts is a little surprised to find the team looking up at the league leaders instead of being amongst them, as they have been the last several seasons. It was a team goal to repeat as league champions, and at the onset of this years' campaign, it looked like a reachable dream. A few “wrinkles” have come up here and there, and the team isn't as strong defensively as expected. At the moment, though, the Indians will have to focus on the present.

“We're here, and we've just got to win Friday and move forward,” said Tufts. “But at the beginning of the year, if you had told me we'd be in this position, I'd have thought we'd be battling for first or second right now. I think every coach has that optimist outlook at the beginning of the year.”

A win on Friday over Astoria would pit the Indians against the loser of the Yamhill-Carlton at Seaside showdown. The league playoff game will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 25, likely at Banks High School. Scappoose has lost their last four, but can still ensure they see the post season by knocking off the Fishermen on Feb. 21

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