The Lions have beaten Tualatin three times this year, but know how good the Wolves are.
It almost had to be this way.
It seems like fate.
After battling through three epic battles already this year, the West Linn and Tualatin boys basketball teams will meet for a fourth time with the Class 6A state championship on the line.
The top-ranked Three Rivers League-champion Lions will face No. 3 Tualatin — the TRL runner-up — in the state championship at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
West Linn enters the contest as winners of 15 straight games (the state’s longest streak at the 6A level) — including its 89-69 semifinal victory over No. 4 Lincoln on Friday, March 10 — and carrying a 28-1 overall record (the best in the state at the 6A level) after winning the Three Rivers League.
The Timberwolves, the reigning Class 6A state champions, come in as winners of five straight games — including their 68-55 semifinal “W” over No. 2 Barlow on Friday — and carrying a 23-5 overall record after finishing second in the Three Rivers League.
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The Lions say they’ll be ready for Tualatin on Saturday night.
“We’re feeling good going into (the championship),” said West Linn senior guard Jackson Shelstad, the Three Rivers League Player of the Year. “They’re a good team. They’re a really good team. They’ve got athletes — they’re kind of similar to us. They’ve got athletes and they’re physical, but we love playing them.”
“We are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game and play 100% and we’re fully ready to do that,” said West Linn senior forward Mark Hamper, the TRL Defensive Player of the Year.
“We are going to get their best shot so we’re going to have to play our best game of basketball like we did (against Lincoln),” said senior guard Drake Gabel, an honorable mention all-TRL pick. “We know we’re going to get a bigger shot from them than the last time we played them.”
In addition to Shelstad, Hamper and Gabel, the Lions are also led by senior guard Adrian Mosley (a first-team all-league pick) and senior guard Sam Leavitt (a second-team all-TRL selection).
The Timberwolves, however, have guys of their own, including first-team all-league picks Josiah Lake (a 6-foot-2 senior guard) and Jaden Steppe (a 6-8 junior wing/post).
The rest of Tualatin’s starting five are also all-leaguers, including 6-5 junior post Jayden Fortier (a second-teamer), 6-2 junior guard/wing A.J. Noland (an honorable mention selection) and 5-10 senior guard/wing Ryan Schleicher (another honorable mention selection).
In its semifinal win over Barlow, Tualatin saw Lake go off for 27 points and five rebounds, Noland add 17 points and Steppe tack on 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and one steal.
How good are the Wolves? Tualatin has given West Linn two of its five closest games of the season, including the Lions’ 73-69 win in the Les Schwab Invitational and WL’s 60-54 league victory on Feb. 2. And if the Wolves had been able to excise the Lions from their 2022-23 schedule, they’d be 23-2 overall and owners of a 21-game winning streak.
“We just need to play hard and play together,” said West Linn junior guard Nick DiGuilio, who broke through for 14 points in the Lions’ semifinal victory. “We’ve been doing that well all season so it’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing and trust each other and we’ll be good.”
“(The key is) just staying together and playing as a team, sticking together as a unit,” Mosley added.
Read about West Linn’s league wins over Tualatin by clicking here and clicking here.
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