The West Linn boys basketball team has been to a lot of different places in recent years.
This year, the Lions went to Kentucky for a big preseason tournament, then to the annual Les Schwab Invitational. Two years ago, West Linn played in Florida before finishing off the last of its four straight Class 6A state championships.
On Saturday, however, West Linn found itself in a new and unwelcome place — on the outside of the state tournament looking in.
The Lions, after reaching the state tournament seven straight times — every year since 2010 — fell short on Friday, dropping a 72-62 decision to West Salem in the second round of the state playoffs at West Linn High School.
"It sucks. This is a new feeling for me," said West Linn senior wing Jalen Thompson, who scored 15 points in his final game as a Lion. "In all my past years, I made it to the Chiles Center."
"We were going to keep fighting, but they made every free throw," said West Linn sophomore Micah Garrett, who led his team with 20 points, 14 of those in the fourth quarter. "We had 21 turnovers so I wish we would have taken better care of the ball, and I just wish we would have fought harder from the beginning."
With the loss, the seventh-ranked Lions saw their five-game winning streak snapped and finished their year with an overall record of 17-9 after finishing second in the Three Rivers League.
No. 10 West Salem — led by senior Kyle Greeley's 30 points and another 18 by Tyler Miller — won for the sixth time in its past seven games, improved to 19-7 overall and earned a berth in the state quarterfinals. The Titans, third-place finishers in the Greater Valley Conference, will face No. 2 Grant (22-4 overall) at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
West Linn and West Salem traded shots at the start of Saturday's contest, with the Lions trailing just 10-9 after a Garrett free throw with 2 minutes, 46 seconds to go in the first quarter. But West Salem — which saw Miller knock down 4 of 5 shots for eight points in the period — closed the first on a 6-0 run fueled by four Greeley points to lead 16-9.
For West Linn, sophomore Bryson Crockett hit twice for four points in the first.
The Lions rallied at the start of the second, putting together a 10-4 run to close within 20-19 when Thompson took a pass from junior Drayton Caoile and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:17 to go in the half. West Linn senior Max Michelon contributed four points in that stretch, hitting once from the field and making two foul shots.
The Titans answered in kind, however, closing the half on a 10-2 run that included a Justin Scoggin 3-pointer and four points from Greeley, the last of those on a turnaround jumpshot from the right corner in the final second of the period that gave West Salem a 30-21 edge at the break.
Things got worse for the Lions before they got better, too. West Salem opened the second half with a 9-3 edge — West Linn's points came from a Thompson "three" —that extended its lead to 39-24 with 4:39 to go in the third period. Greeley started that run with a backdoor hoop assisted by Tyke Thompson, hit 4 of 5 free throws, then drilled a step-back jumpshot from the right wing for that 15-point lead.
The Titans kept that lead the rest of the third, too — with Greeley scoring nine points in the frame — while the Lions got five points each from Thompson and Garrett and trailed 47-34 entering the final quarter.
But there, with its back to the wall and its season on the line, West Linn fought back. Over the first 3:12 of the fourth quarter, the Lions stitched together a 14-6 edge that brought them within 53-47 on a Thompson 3-pointer assisted by Garrett with 3:48 left in the game.
Other highlights from that run were a Garrett "three," a baseline jumpshot from junior Damiko Tidmore, and consecutive 3-pointers from Garrett, Caoile and Thompson.
"We knew we were down a lot, but at the end of the day, we just wanted to finish the game and leave the seniors off on a good note," said senior guard Ahmir McGee. "So no matter whether we were up or down, we were going to play hard and finish the game."
"We weren't going to give up," Garrett said. "Even though the score was down and we were down, we weren't going to give up."
The Lions were still within 61-54 after another Garrett "three," but West Salem rode Greeley's success at the foul line — he hit 20 of 22 from the line in the contest — to victory down the stretch. As a team, the Titans hit 28 of 32 foul shots, while the Lions made 10 of 13 from the line.
"We got it down to six in the third or fourth, but we couldn't close it out," said Thompson, who hit 5 of 13 shots from the field (including three 3-pointers) and both his foul shots. "We never really gave up. Our shots weren't falling, but we stayed in it the whole game and I think that's why we got it down pretty close at the end."
Garrett went 6 of 12 from the floor (including five "threes") and hit 3 of 4 foul shots en route to his 20 points. Michelon added eight points and Caoile seven in the loss.
In addition to Greeley and Miller, Thompson added 12 for the Titans.
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