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Defending 5A champ Jefferson pulls away in front of a standing room only crowd

by: VERN UYETAKE - Ryan Shearmire goes up for a dunk during last week's showdown with 5A powerhouse Jefferson. Shearmire led the way for the Lions in the game with 22 points and seven rebounds. The Democrats pulled away in the fourth quarter to hand West Linn its first loss of the season. The heavily anticipated showdown between West Linn and Jefferson lived up to its billing on Friday. The teams are the defending state champions at the 6A and 5A level respectively and are arguably the top two teams in the state again this year.

While the squads won't see each other in the regular season and won't be in each other's way en route to another title this year, there were plenty of bragging rights on the line nonetheless.

In an exciting back-and-forth contest, the Democrats used a strong second-half push to win 75-66, handing the Lions a tough early loss.

Jefferson controlled the paint in the second half and the Lions went cold in their comeback effort after cutting the lead to one point early in the fourth quarter.

West Linn looked terrific in the opening minutes in front of a packed home crowd. Jefferson struggled shooting the ball and the Lions jumped out to a 13-3 lead.

Hayden Coppedge and Ryan Shearmire cleaned up the glass early on, combining for 10 first-quarter rebounds and Shearmire had success inside, scoring eight points.

However, that early advantage inside was quickly nullified when Jefferson put in 6-foot-11-inch Greyson Smallwood.

Jefferson went on a 12-0 run in the quarter and was tied 15-15 with the Lions at the end of the opening period.

“When they put (Smallwood) in we got a little scared to take it to the rim and with him protecting the paint they could crowd the perimeter,” coach Eric Viuhkola said.

The Democrats made a concerted effort not to let West Linn point guard Payton Pritchard beat them, guarding him closely and forcing him to get rid of the ball.

“They didn't give him any room to breathe. Not many teams are going to have that much athleticism,” Viuhkola said.

On offense, Jefferson still resorted to jump shots for much of the first half but started to get more second-chance points and built a slim 33-30 lead at the half.

Coming out of the break, Jefferson started to catch fire. The Democrats turned to senior Silas Melson who hit five straight shots in the quarter and has 12 points as Jefferson extended its lead.

“Silas is so good going to his left and we let him do that too much, but that's easier for me to say than to actually guard him,” Viuhkola said.

However, the Lions did manage to get Jefferson into foul trouble early, taking advantage of the Democrats' aggressive, on-the-ball defense.

Shearmire continued to find ways to score despite having to get creative against Smallwood and would finish with a team-high 22 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Jefferson held a comfortable 55-46 lead with one quarter to play but it would disappear quickly.

West Linn opened the period on a fast 8-0 run, getting three free throws and a 3-pointer from Anthony Mathis, prompting a quick timeout.

Jefferson went back to its security blanket in Melson, who responded with back-to-back jump shots to bump the lead to five again.

West Linn began to force the issue as the game wore on, forcing 3-pointers and going cold at an inopportune time.

“We got some great looks where, if they go in, maybe things go differently,” Viuhkola said.

Melson would hit seven of eight free throws in the period to keep West Linn at a distance and seal the win.

Coppedge ended the game with 15 rebounds while Mathis added 16 points to the effort. West Linn had not lost a game since Feb. 12, a league contest against Lake Oswego and, while the game meant little in the standings this year, the disappointment was evident.

“The guys battled their tails off and the whole community was out. I just think they didn't want to disappoint people, but our best learning experiences come after losses,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn and Jefferson will both play in the Les Schwab Invitational this year but are on opposite sides of the bracket.

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