A strong core of returning players gives the Indians a solid chance at another league title.

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Freshman Boogie Davis (left) does his best to block Chase Johnson's layup attempt during an intra-squad scrimmage last Saturday.  At 6-foot-4, Johnson is the second tallest big man the Indians have.The Scappoose boys' basketball team, an offseason removed from their 2013 Cowapa League title, got back to work on Monday last week. Now that tryouts have finished, the program can focus on defending their title and making a run in to the playoffs.

Though the league season doesn't begin until January, the Indians will kick off this year's campaign at Ridgefield High School before returning to Columbia County on the road in St. Helens, taking on the Lions in what may become a well-attended annual clash. A season ago, the Indians lost the opener 49-37 on their home floor.

Scappoose finished last season strong, going 9-1 in Cowapa League play and only dropping one road game at Yamhill-Carlton. The Indians overcame a rough start to the non-league season where they lost their first five games by an average of nearly 17 points each. Their woes early on began to subside with a pair of wins over Ridgeview and Junction City, and after a humbling loss to La Salle, Scappoose went on to win 10 out of their next 12 games. No. 3 La Salle ended the Indians' run with a 50-39 loss.

This year, the Tribe has a far different look. They've added some height, and though Scappoose lost the scoring of seniors Zach Smith and Paul Revis, head coach Rahim Tufts says the team is ahead of where they were last year at this point.

The Indians took part in an inter-squad scrimmage on Saturday, Nov. 23. Tufts and his fellow coaches were happy with the effort and the communication on defense, as well as the plays made on the offensive end of the court. The scrimmage was riddled with highlights, especially a three with only a few seconds left to tie the game up at 44 points each.

“Everybody is multiple steps ahead of where they were last year, and that's what you want in a program. You want guys to improve and not just stay stagnant,” said Tufts. “It's been fun to coach them in the morning work outs and during the summer, and when practice started, we just picked up where we left off in the summer.”

One of the most impressive feats so far has been a certain calm, cool and collected feel about the team on offense, even in the younger players. It's a poise that is normally seen in a group of seniors, but seems to have permeated into the younger ranks as well.

“Guys are out there just playing,” Tufts said. “When they make a mistake, they're not looking at me or the assistant coaches. They're just playing, and that confidence is going to be huge for us.”

Tufts mentioned the improvement of seniors Taylor Loss, Tracy Scruggs and Mitch Davis, as well as the team's towering pair of juniors, Ethan Marcantonio and Chase Johnson. The two stand at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-4 respectively.

“They put a ton of time in over the summer working on their footwork and how to use their body down low, and also hitting the mid-range jumper,” said Tufts.

As far as the offense is concerned, Tufts said he isn't concerned. The team is deep and the threat to score could come from any number of directions.

“On five different nights, we could have five different leading scorers,” he said. “Depending on the match ups or who gets hot, where as last year, (Smith) was our leading scorer ninety percent of the time.”

Tufts expects the Cowapa League title race to be a tough one, as many teams will be returning most of their players. After playing at Ridgefield and St. Helens, the Indians will play in their home opener against Roosevelt on Nov. 10. League play begins Jan. 21 when Scappoose will host Tillamook.

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