West Linn downs St. Marys in dramatic fashion and is now ranked No. 4 in the state

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN - Sidney Kolasinski drives along the baseline against Southridge Tuesday. Kolasinski drained a pair of clutch free throws Friday at St. Mary's to help top the No. 1 Blues. After racking up three road wins against a trio of top-10 caliber opponents, the West Linn girls basketball team has skipped the step of being a surprising upstart team to a legitimate contender this year.

That status was earned last week when the Lions went on the road and topped recently anointed No. 1 St. Mary's in dramatic fashion 42-41.

West Linn is now ranked No. 4 in the state and is starting to develop a target on its back.

The Lions are garnering a reputation for being one of the stingiest defensive squads in the state, particularly in the half-court. In four games, West Linn had failed to yield 50 points in a single contest and it was the defense that helped the Lions jump out against the Blues.

The Lions executed well against the St. Mary's press and were deliberate on offense, moving the ball around for the best possible look.

“We preach fundamental defense every day and we knew we just needed to be patient on offense against a team that long and athletic,” coach Lisa Griffith said.

Both teams missed a handful of opportunities in the first half, but the Lions were confident heading into the locker room only trailing 26-24.

“The first half was just a battle and we just told the team that we were right in it and had a chance,” Griffith said.

In the third quarter, West Linn ramped up the defense further. The Lions contested everything and held the Blues to just four points, taking a four-point lead into the final period.

West Linn would extend that lead further and appeared to have things under control with less than two minutes to play and an eight-point lead.

But, with their backs against the wall, the Blues refused to go away, creating turnovers and knocking down clutch shots.

“We put in a new offense and a new defense and there are new coaches. These girls have had a ton thrown at them this year and they're still learning how to close out games,” Griffith said.

St. Mary's would reclaim the lead with less than 30 seconds to play in the game and the Lions set up a play. The original look was knocked out of bounds and West Linn drew up another plan, getting the ball to Sidney Kolasinski who got great position in the paint after a feed from Caitlin Malvar.

She was fouled going up for a shot with two seconds remaining and calmly swished both attempts.

“We made the right read on the play and it was a tremendous ending to a great game,” Griffith said.

St. Mary's' half-court attempt at the buzzer missed and the Lions celebrated with an enormous early-season win.

Ashley Johnson played a huge role in the game, knocking down 4-of-6 3-point attempts at crucial points in the contest and leading the team with 16 points.

For Griffith it was a huge victory in her first year with the Lions and was made more special as it was also a homecoming to where she played high school basketball.

“It was definitely emotional. St. Mary's is such a special school to anyone who's gone there,” Griffith said.

West Linn then had to make a road trip to Eugene to make up a postponed contest with Sheldon.

“That was a big concern. How do you come back with energy after a big win especially after a road trip?” Griffith said.

The Irish were strong opponents and the Lions found themselves in another physical and methodical contest where each possession was important.

Sheldon and West Linn battled back and forth for the better part of four quarters until the Lions came up with some key stops late to clinch a 48-43 victory.

On Tuesday, West Linn finally had its home opener, taking on a well-coached Southridge team.

The Lions appeared to be on their way to their first comfortable win of the year as they stifled the Skyhawks in the first two quarters, jumping out to a 30-11 lead.

West Linn started to get a bit sloppier in the third quarter but still led 44-23 with one period to play.

However Southridge wasn't finished and its press started to have more effectiveness than it had all night. The Lions didn't do themselves any favors either, only hitting 17 of 39 foul shots.

Still, it was enough to pick up a 58-49 victory.

“It was kind of painful at the end but it's something we'll look at and learn from it,” Griffith said.

West Linn will now be able to take a breath before battling Hermiston at home on Friday before preparing for the Interstate Shootout and Lake Oswego High School after Christmas.

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