West Linn plays in the fifth place game, falling only two a pair of strong out-of-state opponents

by: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn point guard Payton Pritchard drives against a Neumann-Goretti defender during last week's Les Schwab Invitational.West Linn proved it very much belonged in the Northwest's most competitive basketball tournament featuring nationally ranked teams.

The Lions knocked off a pair of strong Oregon opponents and advanced to the fifth place game before dropping a hard-fought contest to Archbishop Mitty.

West Linn opened the tournament in impressive fashion, burying Sprague from the opening tip 78-59.

The game wasn't even as close as the final score indicated as West Linn jumped out to a 43-20 halftime lead and coasted into the winner's side of the bracket.

West Linn got it done inside and outside. Anthony Mathis hit a trio of three-pointers in the game and finished with 25 points while Ryan Shearmire had little trouble getting to the rim inside, going 11-for-17 from the field and scoring a game-high 27 points.

Shearmire also added nine rebounds in just 21 minutes of playing time as he wreaked havoc against the Olympians.

Freshman point guard Payton Pritchard also had a nice game, dishing out 10 assists.

In the second round, West Linn went up against Neumann-Goretti, a team ranked No. 7 in the nation out of Philadelphia.

The Lions got off to a slow start and, unlike they have been able to do on multiple occasions this year, never fully recovered, falling 96-74.

Neumann Goretti had its way on offense and jumped out to a quick 20-10 lead after the first quarter.

West Linn started to find its footing offensively in the second quarter but could never cut into the deficit.

“We were a little disappointed that we didn't put our best foot forward in that one,” coach Eric Viuhkola said.

Mathis carried the load for the Lions, pouring in 27 points. Pritchard scored 10 points to go along with eight assists.

The Lions then took on Central Catholic in a rematch of an earlier preseason contest this year which West Linn lost. Early on, the games looked like mirror images of each other.

West Linn was slow out of the gate once again, falling behind 22-13 and trailed by double digits at the half. Earlier in the year, the Lions mounted a spirited rally but came up just short against the Rams.

The Lions started their comeback in the second half, getting a solid team effort and shoring up things on defense to slow the Rams down.

West Linn cut the lead to five points heading into the fourth quarter and then went into cruise control. The Lions played perhaps their best quarter of basketball all season, turning in efficient possessions and hitting clutch free throws as they quickly claimed the lead and never looked back.

“It was great to have a gut-check like that and to respond the way we did. I think we all felt like we gave one away when we played them earlier,” Viuhkola said.

Hayden Coppedge drilled three three-pointers in the opening minutes of the quarter to complete the comeback.

Once again, the Lions are one of the better free throw shooting teams in the state and it came in handy against the Rams.

Mathis led four West Linn players in double figures with 21 points. Shearmire and Coppedge each had 14 while Prtichard had 12 points and 10 assists. Jarrod Howard also made a nice contribution for the Lions, leading the team with eight rebounds.

In the fifth place game, West Linn took on Archbishop Mitty who featured perhaps the tournament's best overall player in Aaron Gordon, a towering post who can also handle the ball.

Handling Gordon was a difficult task and it got Shearmire into foul trouble. Shearmire racked up five fouls in just five minutes of playing time to handicap the Lions.

However, West Linn was in the game until the final minute. Howard, Colin Davis and Joel Larson all played important minutes for the Lions in the contest.

“I'm proud of how we battled. I told the guys that they're going to be watching Gordon in the NBA some day. He's a special talent and I thought we handled him pretty well,” Viuhkola said.

Archbishop Mitty took the early lead but the Lions rebounded quickly and led 29-28 at the half. The score was tied heading into the fourth quarter and Archbishop Mitty took a slim early advantage.

Pritchard drained a three-pointer to tie and Coppedge completed a three-point play to give West Linn a 50-49 advantage.

But Archbishop Mitty continued to go back to Gordon who had his way in the paint. Pritchard, who paced the West Linn offense with 24 points, drained a deep three to tie the game again with 1:15 to play but a crucial late turnover allowed Archbishop to make it a two-possession game and hold on for the victory.

Still, the tournament was a big success for the Lions who have confirmed that they are, once again, among the elite squads in Oregon.

“I think we saw that we can go up against this level of competition. We still need to figure out what we need to do defensively. Offense isn't an issue because we have guys who can do some special things,” Viuhkola said.

Next up for the Lions will be West Salem.

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