PORTLAND -- Winning a Metro League title has been a rite of passage for Jesuit boys basketball players in coach Gene Potter’s 27-year tenure.
The title has eluded the Crusaders for the last three seasons, though, so faced with a golden opportunity this year, they are eager to seize it.
No. 3 Jesuit gained the inside track Friday night by fending off visiting Sunset 61-55 in a battle of first-place teams. The Crusaders (16-5, 8-1), who split their two league games against the No. 10 Apollos (15-6, 7-2), now hold a one-game lead with three games remaining.
“We talk about that all the time. We want to make Coach proud,” senior guard Justin Bieker said. “We want to go ahead and add another, keep the legacy going.”
Added senior guard Aiden Williams: “Coach really deserved this one. Now we’ve set ourselves up for a really big one.”
Williams and Bieker scored 20 and 18 points, respectively, for Jesuit, which took the lead in the first quarter and never trailed. It was the sixth consecutive win for the Crusaders since an 89-84 triple-overtime loss at Sunset on Jan. 15.
“We knew it was going to be a battle after last game,” said the 6-foot-5 Bieker, who also had five rebounds and four assists. “We came in amped up to play them, to get another shot at them. We remember that one every day since, so it was awesome to come out here and take back over Metro.”
Bieker scored eight points as Jesuit took a 17-9 lead late in the first quarter. The Crusaders built the lead to nine points early in the third quarter, but the scrappy Apollos wouldn’t go away.
“It was exactly the kind of game I thought it would be, back and forth,” Potter said. “They just continue to compete and compete. They have shot-makers and guys that will get them back in the game.”
Down 49-44 early in the fourth quarter, Sunset got a three-pointer from sophomore Kell Estep and an inside hoop from junior Colby King to pull even at 49-49 with 5:01 left. The Apollos got a defensive stop and were ready to take the lead.
That’s when Jesuit junior guard Matthew Levis stepped up. He got a steal and basket, then followed it with a transition layup to put the Crusaders up 53-49.
“His steal was huge. That might’ve been the biggest play of the game,” Potter said. “They had all the momentum, they were pretty much scoring at will, and they got a chance to take the lead. He makes a great steal and a great finish.”
Williams said that Levis’ steal “was really big for us. Matt wasn’t going all night, and then he gets maybe two of the biggest baskets of the game to kind of give us the last bit of energy we needed to pull it out. An energy burst like that, it just gives us an extra step.”
After Bieker hit a jumper to make it 55-49, Sunset made one last run. King made a three-pointer to get the Apollos within 57-55 with 1:46 left, and after Jesuit twice missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, Sunset had chances to tie or take the lead.
On the first chance, junior guard Braeden Sato missed a contested jumper in the lane with 36 seconds to go. On the second chance, King appeared to score inside but was called for traveling with 12 seconds remaining.
Williams and senior Will Sheaffer made four consecutive free throws in the last 10 seconds to clinch the win.
Sato scored 14 points and King added nine points and nine rebounds for Sunset, which made a strong showing on the road but just couldn’t get over the hump.
“When we got even, it felt like, ‘All right, now we’ve just got to get the lead,’” Sato said. “But that Jesuit team, they’re fighters. They’re a hell of a team. I thought we played well. I personally think this was the best we’ve ever played together. One of our best.
“No one thought we were going to be this good. None of the coaches polls thought that we were going to be top 10, for sure. But we proved everyone wrong.”
Now Jesuit can wrap up the Metro title outright by winning its last three games – home against Aloha (8-12, 0-8) and Beaverton (11-10, 5-4) and at Westview (12-8, 5-3).
“It’s right there for us to take,” Williams said. “But as Coach said after the game, ‘One game at a time.’ Every single game means the same as this one. Because this one won’t mean anything if we don’t come ready to play Tuesday.”