Southridge boys basketball beats West Salem, Tualatin to take home 6A hardware at state tourney

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge seniors Connor Fajardo, Bradley Bickler and the Skyhawk boys basketball team closed their season by finishing fourth at the Class 6A state tournament on Saturday.

The half-hour bus ride back from the Chiles Center to Southridge started off silent late Thursday night.

The Skyhawk players crammed into their respective seats, hoods covering their heads and scrolled through their social media outlets and unread text messages hoping to escape what had just transpired in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

Against No. 14 Lincoln, No. 3 Southridge was afflicted by poor shooting in a rather uncharacteristic offensive showing that saw the Skyhawks make just 1-of-20 three pointers and 29 percent of their field goals in a 39-34 upset defeat. Southridge had planned on advancing with ease. With eventual state champion Grant looming, the Skyhawks were caught looking ahead and unhappily kicked to the consolation bracket.

But as the team bus veered onto I5 South and headed back toward Beaverton, Southridge came to. In the postgame locker room head coach Phil Vesel told his team they had a choice to make: feel sorry for the loss and go two-and-out or keep fighting and win back through the other side of the bracket. The shot at bringing home hardware and matching the program's highest state finish in school history still had meaning. The chance to play together for two more games still mattered. This a group that when asked what made them unique cited their brotherhood both on and off the court.

Once the Hawks pulled up in front of Southridge High, they were on the same page, bent on finishing out their storybook season with a bang.

And with two games in front of them, Southridge met the challenge. The Hawks outran West Salem in the consolation semis, 79-68, and then punctuated its state tourney showing with a multifaceted 66-60 triumph over Tualatin on Saturday to secure fourth place in state. Against the Timberwolves, Filip Fullerton was a monster, collecting another double-double with 18 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks. Fullerton was named second-team all-tournament. Brock Henry had 13 points and Bo Quinlan added 12. Junior Zach Galvin had 8 points, 5 assists and 5 boards.

"We're just fighters," Southridge senior point guard Connor Fajardo said. "That quarterfinal game was tough for sure. It was one that you're gonna look back the rest of your life and say 'If we did this, if we did that'. But we had to respond. We knew we could end this phenomenal season on a high note. And those guys...I can't describe how much they mean to me. The attitude and will we had to compete in these last two days says a lot not just about us, but the program we have at Southridge."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior Kade Hustler makes a turnaround jumper at the third quarter buzzer against Tualatin.

The state tournament was the culmination of a journey that started back in June before summer league kicked off. Armed with the most gifted roster in the Metro League, Southridge made it known its primary goal was to win the conference crown and did so, winning Metro for the first time in school history. The Hawks won 25 games (the most in program history) and lost just once during league play. Southridge could very well stake claim as the best squad ever to suit up in a Skyhawk uniform. The number of wins and all-important Metro trophy stack up nicely against the Caleb Herzberg and Caleb Dozier-led team of 2012-13 in a battle of in-house bragging rights. Only three teams get to end their season with a win, to go out on a high and Southridge is one of those.

"We found something inside of us to get up in the morning and say 'I'm gonna go compete for my brothers and my family' because that's what they deserve," Fajardo said. "We battled through a lot of adversity during the season. We had guys who were sick, guys who were hurt. But we just kept responding. That was the motto of this team, 'Respond'. No matter what, we were family and we'll be family for life."

It was a banner year for a band of brothers that grew closer in the proverbial foxhole as the year flowered into something special.

"We knew this season was going to be memorable from the start and now, as the season's all said and done, a lot of other people are going to remember this team, too," Henry said. "Our team chemistry was amazing. We were loaded with talent, but you can't do anything with talent if you don't have chemistry. We all went out and played for each other and went to war for our brothers."

Shots started to finally fall at a regular clip against West Salem and Tualatin, surely, and that helped the game open back up for Hawks. But, the symbolization of getting off the mat after being unexpectedly knocked to the canvas by the Cardinals speaks to Southridge's fortitude.

"It shows we're tough and showed resiliency, especially playing top-tier teams like this," Henry said. "(Tualatin's) Alexis (Angeles) and (West Salem's) Kyle (Greeley) are two of the top scorers in Oregon. We came back, battled against them and bounced back for sure after that first loss."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior Brock Henry makes a left-handed pass in transition against Tualatin the Class 6A consolation final.

In the third quarter, trailing Tualatin 38-34, Fullerton made a three and later rebounded his own miss and put it home to give Southridge a 40-39 lead. Galvin made a three off a Kade Hustler kickout to extend the edge to 43-39. Then Hustler snatched an offensive board, put a half spin on a smaller defender and went straight up for the buzzer-beating jumper to give Southridge a 45-39 lead at the end of three.

"We tried to have some fun again," Fajardo said. "That quarterfinal game was not fun. It wasn't our basketball style of play at all. But we still had more basketball to play, more games to go. We kept playing, kept fighting."

The contest continued to open up in the fourth as Henry drove hard to the rim for an open layup. And on the very next play, Galvin jumped the ensuing inbounds pass with his quicksilver hands and zipped a pass to Henry under the rim for two. In a five-second span, Southridge's lead expanded from six to 10 with five minutes to go at 53-41.

"That sparked the fire right there," Henry said of the two-play sequence. "We were struggling a little bit, but our defense got us into it and that's when we broke away. You see a few shots go in and they start falling left and right."

"I was so hyped," Fajardo said with a smile. "I was jumping up and down on the bench. After that I knew this was our game for sure."

Tualatin made a few threes down the stretch, but never really threatened the Hawks the rest of the way. The fourth-place finish marked the final games for Fullerton, Quinlan, Fajardo, Luke Moret, Bradley Bickler, Jared Ebanks and Brantley Schinkelwitz.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge juniors Zach Galvin and Kade Hustler helped the Skyhawks beat Tualatin in the 6A consolation final on Saturday.

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