PORTLAND – After playing in the shadow of West Linn all season, Tualatin stepped into the light Saturday night.
The Timberwolves, 0-3 against their Three Rivers League nemesis this season, made their fourth try count with a resounding 60-47 win over the Lions in the final of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 6A boys basketball tournament Saturday night before a packed house at the Chiles Center.
Reigning champion Tualatin set a physical tone from the opening tip – holding the explosive Lions to one point in the first quarter – and never let up to become the first 6A team to repeat since West Linn won four consecutive titles from 2013 to 2016.
The top-seeded Lions (28-2) had become the overwhelming 6A favorite since an impressive run through the power-packed Les Schwab Invitational in late December, even earning a No. 1 national ranking. But they struggled to match the intensity of the third-seeded Timberwolves (24-5) on Saturday.
“When I saw them warming up, I knew we wanted it more,” Tualatin junior wing Jaden Steppe said. “They were already happy with winning the LSI and being nationally ranked, but we weren't happy. We had nothing to be happy about this year. So when we came out there, we knew we wanted it more. We were the hungrier team.”
Tualatin senior point guard Josiah Lake, the only starter back from last season, scored a team-high 20 points, making 12 of 16 free throws. The 6-foot-8 Steppe had 19 points and 10 rebounds and chiseled 6-5 junior post Jayden Fortier battered the Lions inside with nine points and 15 rebounds, helping the Timberwolves to a 37-23 edge on the boards.
“If we can take one all year, that's the one we want,” Lake said. “And that's what we talked about before the game, and that's what we'll talk about now. We lost three, but this is the one that matters, and we got it done.”
Tualatin repeatedly beat the Lions to rebounds and loose balls.
“This was one of the first game where we've actually been able to be physical with people because the refs let us play a little bit,” first-year Tualatin coach Bubba Lemon said. “We had two football teams going against each other basically tonight.
“I was happy to see our guys match the intensity. We actually told them, 'Don't just match it, but just go hit them first.'”
Tualatin dominated early, scoring the game's first 10 points. The Timberwolves led 12-1 after the first quarter as West Linn shot 0 for 10 from the field, 1 for 4 on free throws and had three turnovers. The Lions, coming off an offensive surge in an 89-69 semifinal win over Lincoln, didn't get their first basket until junior Nick DiGuilio made a jumper 10 seconds into the second quarter.
“I didn't see that coming. I really didn't,” West Linn first-year coach Robert Key said. “Especially when I saw the 12-1 lead, I was caught off-guard, completely caught off-guard. I don't know if it was the pace of the Lincoln game, the up and down, how we went. We were just so flat. My hat's off to my players, they competed. But I think the night before took a lot out of us.”
Tualatin held West Linn senior point guard Jackson Shelstad – 6A's top scorer at 28.5 points per game – scoreless in the first quarter as Lake stuck to him and got plenty of help.
“We made some big plays to start the game,” Lake said. “Our defense was really solid. That's a defense we worked on all season, and then we came out today and perfected it. We used it to our advantage.”
Did Tualatin surprise the Lions at the start?
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Lake said.
The Oregon-bound Shelstad, with Ducks coach Dana Altman and former West Linn and Oregon star Payton Pritchard in attendance, began to heat up with 11 points in the second quarter. But the Timberwolves finished the half on a 9-1 run, getting two baskets from Steppe and a buzzer-beating three-pointer from senior Jack Wagner, to lead 30-16.
Tualatin used a 9-0 surge in the third quarter to open a 39-20 lead, and appeared ready knock out West Linn. Shelstad brought them back to within striking distance, though, and when Lions senior Adrian Mosley scored the first basket of the third quarter, it was 41-31.
The Lions got as close as 47-40 on a basket by junior Max Juhala with 3:59 remaining. Shelstad had a chance to draw them closer but uncharacteristically missed two free throws with 3:37 to go.
“I looked at him and smiled and said, 'Uh-oh,'” Steppe said of Shelstad. “I just knew right then, they were out of it. He doesn't miss his free throws, so I knew he was rattled.”
Lake scored 10 points in the last four minutes, including a steal and dunk that sent the Tualatin student section into delirium. Steppe added an exclamation point by dunking with 10 seconds left.
The Timberwolves, who eliminated West Linn in the semifinals last year, knew they couldn't afford to let up against the dangerous Lions.
“They can put up 20 points in about two minutes,” Fortier said. “They're just as good as anybody, any of the national teams. We knew they were going to come out hard in the third quarter and get a little push. We stayed composed and we came out with a win.”
Fortier epitomized Tualatin's full-out effort. Before the game, Lemon challenged him to grab 15 rebounds. That's exactly what he did.
“I said, 'Own the board,' and he owned the board,” Lemon said.
Said Fortier: “The thing that changed this game is we didn't give them second opportunities. We were snagging the ball at the rim.”
Lemon won a title in his first season as a head coach. The 2006 graduate of Tualatin, where he was a three-sport athlete, assisted in the program for the previous six seasons. He was promoted when Todd Jukkala stepped down after last season.
“This team just really believes in each other,” Lemon said. “I'm actually really blessed that these guys believe in me.”
The Timberwolves drew encouragement and inspiration from last year's seniors. Steppe said he had lunch Saturday with Noah Ogoli, a starting guard on last year's team.
“I was like, 'Do you think we're going to win, Noah?' And he goes, 'I know you guys are going to win,'” Steppe said.
Shelstad had 24 points and six rebounds to lead West Linn. The Lions, who hit 12 of 26 from three-point range against Lincoln, finished 2 for 19 from behind the arc Saturday, including Shelstad's 0 for 7.
“We left some shots out there that we usually hit,” West Linn senior forward Mark Hamper said. “We couldn't get it going tonight. That's a great defensive team, and just a great team overall. And they deserved it tonight over us, for sure.
“Just playing a team a lot, they kind of came in, nothing to lose. And we've got everything to lose. It's just a lot of pressure to deal with. … It's going to take a while for this one not to hurt.”
The loss became a role reversal for Key, who coached Grant to a state championship win over Jefferson in 2018 after going 0-3 against the Democrats during the season.
“It's definitely reality now,” Key said. “You know, that was something I didn't want to think about. But you can tell that Tualatin came out with a desire to say, 'We can't go down four times.'”