Crusaders win their 'Holy War' by pulling away from talented Central Catholic
by: Miles Vance SOARING — Jesuit senior Jordan Akwenuke flies between three Central Catholic defenders to score during his team’s semifinal win at the Rose Garden on Friday.

PORTLAND - Call it yet another installment of the high school 'Holy War.'

Call it a match-up of two of the state's top five teams.

But most importantly, Jesuit's boys basketball team got to call their contest against Central Catholic in the semifinals of the Class 6A state tournament on Friday a victory.

The Metro League champion Crusaders, on the cusp of a third straight state title, outscored the talented Rams in four straight quarters and pulled away to win by 77-61 at the Rose Garden. The victory lifted Jesuit's record to 25-2 and sent them on to the tournament championship for the third straight year, while the Mt. Hood Conference champion Rams fell to 23-4.

'We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in, and we're just grateful our guys responded,' said Jesuit senior post Kyle Witljer, who led his team with 19 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.

'That was fun. Real fun,' said Jesuit senior wing Jordan Akwenuke, who added 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, three blocks and five steals. 'We play every game like the championship game because if we don't win, then we're not going on.'

Friday's win didn't come easy, though. The Rams got four first-quarter points from Kidus Ephrem and trailed just 15-14 at the end of the third first quarter. Sophomore guard Xavier Coleman came off the bench for four first-quarter points to pace the Crusaders, and eventually finished with 10 points two assists and three steals.

Central led early in the second quarter thanks to a steal and breakaway by Brennan Scarlett, and trailed just 19-18 when Scarlett hit from the left baseline with 6 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half.

But Jesuit took over then and there, outscored the Rams 14-7 in the final 5:38 of the half and took a 33-25 lead into the break. Ryan Benson got that stretch started with a three-pointer from the left corner, Coleman added another 'three' 33 seconds later, and Riley Wiggins scored twice in the latter half of the period to send his team into halftime ahead by eight.

Jesuit pushed that lead to 14 points twice in the third quarter, the last time at 48-34 when Wiltjer spun down the right baseline and reverse dunked with 55 seconds left in the frame. But the Rams got back-to-back hoops from David Carr in the final 45 seconds and still trailed just 50-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

Central then got two straight Will Bond hoops in the paint to kick off the fourth quarter and cut the Jesuit lead to 51-44, but the Rams' party ended right then.

The Crusaders ripped off eight straight points to reassert control of the contest, with Wiltjer tipping home a Khyan Rayner miss, Rayner hitting two free throws, Akwenuke scoring on a reverse, and Ryan Benson scoring on a fast break set up by an Akwenuke steal for a 59-44 lead with 4:43 left in the game.

The Rams cut their deficit to 11 points twice in the remaining minutes, but it was too little and too late. Akwenuke scored seven points in the game's final 3:45, including a two-handed dunk off a lob from Wiltjer with 30 seconds left on the clock.

'Coach Potter got us psyched up at halftime, and thankfully, I got my hands onto a lot of passes I and got a lot of easy fast break points,' Akwenuke said.

'Jordan is Mr. Hustle,' Wiltjer added. 'He's going to fly from end to end, just no regard for human life. That's my guy and I'm just grateful he was able to bring such high intensity.'

The Crusaders also benefited from solid bench play against the Rams, with Coleman and Wiggins teaming for 16 points in the victory.

'We just came out and played our regular game, treated it like any other game,' Coleman said. 'We knew the value of it, but we came out as a team and did what we needed to do and got it done.'

Jack Grodahl added 10 points and five rebounds for Jesuit, Benson had nine points and three rebounds, and Rayner seven points. Bond finished with 18 for Central, while Scarlett had 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

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