MHS d McKenzie: 46-24
Feb. 8, 2020 — For the Mapleton boys basketball team, third place is the best sweet spot.
“Obviously, you want to be the best you can be, one or two, but I don’t think that’s a possibility,” Coach Eric Wolgamott said. “If we win [this] Tuesday night, we lock third in. Third is where we want to be.”
The third-place team gets two chances to win one game to go to state; a third-place team will play the second-place team at that team’s home court.
“And if you win that, you play that Saturday for the championship game for the league,” Wolgamott explained. “So, if you’re third, you still have a chance to win the whole thing.”
Last Thursday night, the Sailors won their third game in a row after defeating McKenzie, holding a league record of eight wins and four losses. Wolgamott mapped out the possibilities of post league play, and third place was looking better and better.
“The loser of the two-three games will then play the winner of the four-five game, and that match-up will still go to state if you win,” he continued. “If you play in the championship game, you’re going to state, regardless of outcome. But if you’re in the third-place game, you have to win that game to go.”
From the beginning of the season, Wolgamott has been cautiously optimistic about getting to this point. Now that it’s here, he said it was exciting to think about.
“We haven’t been in that situation since I’ve been coaching, and this is my third year here,” said Wolgamott. “The past two years, I think we’ve been fourth or fifth and out the post season. It’s definitely easier on you if you take care of business in the league season. Then you have a little more breathing room.”
That’s not to say the Sailors are making room reservations for the state game. As always, Wolgamott said they’re taking it one game at a time.
“The classic coach speech,” he said. “But we’re enjoying this moment. We’ve won five or our last six games. They’re playing good. There’s still some things we have to clean up a little bit, but I always say it’s better to do that in a win than a loss.”
The Sailors have been working hard on a number of trouble spots the past couple of weeks, and that honing showed during Thursday night’s game against McKenzie. One of their biggest issues as of late — fouls — were nowhere to be seen.
“No one fouled out, and I don’t think we had any foul trouble,” he said. “I don’t even think they were in the bonus the second half. That’s showing that they’re getting it, they’re getting more disciplined. They’re playing smarter, so that’s good.”
There was one technical during the game, called against Justyce Wierichs, but the call was debatable.
“I’m going to have to watch the film,” Wolgamott said. “From my angle, I’m not sure how much it was. I just saw two guys being aggressive going for the ball, making a play. I’m going to watch that, and if I feel like there’s something there, they’ll be some consequences for it. But if not, from my angle, I thought it was just two guys going hard for the ball.”
Some of the biggest strides came from the offense, making extra passes, leading to three or four wide open layups, getting the ball inside and looking down to the short corner on the low block.
The team is taking pride in their assists
“Usually, high school boys, it’s all about the points,” said Wolgamott. “But now they’re starting to take pride in the assists, take pride in the rebounds, making that extra pass to get someone else open. They’re really working well together. The most encouraging sign is they get even more excited when someone else scores.”
As league play is coming to a close, the Sailors are mastering the art of teamwork.
“In order to be a successful team, you have to play for each other —not against each other,” said Wolgamott. “They’re definitely doing that. The rhythms, the timing is on. We just have to continue that.”
Against McKenzie, the Sailors kept the Eagles at 24 points the whole night, with only 11 points in the second half.
Mapleton itself also dipped in the fourth, scoring only four points, but that was on purpose.
“We were trying to work on some things there, trying to get some guys in different positions that they usually don’t play. Trying to build some depth behind that point guard position,” Wolgamott said.
He praised Joseph Shephard, pointing out the 3-pointers he’s been making every game.
“The fact that he’s becoming an outside threat is really going to help us,” Wolgamott said.
Jesse Hughes, who spent the fourth on the wing, was getting more comfortable with passing and moving.
“And he’s playing smart, not forcing the pass,” Wolgamott said. “He’s looking at his options and not forcing it, taking that extra pass.”
Stat wise, Wierichs led in scoring with 13, followed by 10 points from JJ Neece, who Wolgamott called a full-court threat.
JJ was tied with his brother, Nate, with 10 points, followed by AJ Moso with eight.
“They’re playing smarter basketball, and I can tell they’re having fun out there,” Wolgamott said. “That’s the most encouraging sign, that they’re having fun and they want to do well for the fans. We’re getting a better turnout each game, it seems like. It really fires them up. It’s a good atmosphere right now.”
Looking ahead, Wolgamott is sticking to the classic coach speech.
“We have to keep going,” he said. “I told them to enjoy the win, but then on Monday, it’s all about Alsea on Tuesday. We’ll see what we can do about them.”
Alsea plays at Mapleton on Tuesday, with the Sailors hosting Siletz Valley Thursday. Both begin at 7 p.m.