On Feb. 11 the Cottage Grove basketball team traveled to the Tigers’ jungle to square off against the Junction City the top-ranked team in 4A. Despite some of the Lions’ best stretches of play throughout the season, Junction City’s three-point barrage in the second half led them to a 57-42 win over Cottage Grove.
“All credit to them they’re a really good team and there’s a reason why they’re number one in state,” said Cottage Grove Head Coach Seth Hutchison. “I was happy with the way we started. I thought we executed well the first half. One of the things we hang our hats on is we compete all the way through.”
Jayden Cameron was the points leader for Cottage Grove with 17 followed by teammates Carter Bascue with 9 and Brennen Murphy with 8. While Kaleb Burnett led Junction City with 18 points and teammate Court Knabe finished with 15.
“Junction City is tough because they involve everybody on offense and grind you down on defense,” said Senior Forward Ty Kishen. “I know that were eyeing a home playoff game, that’s what is pushing us to keep going. It’s been such a long time since CG has been in playoff contention and we want our home crowd there to cheer us on.”
Bascue and Cameron were clicking early as Cottage Grove struck first and jumped out to a lead in the first minutes of the game, 5-0. Even though Junction City converted two separate three-point plays the Lions were still the aggressor and held their lead at the end of the quarter 17-11.
The Lions lead got all the way up to nine with just over six minutes remaining until halftime, but the Tigers’ offense slowly started to wake up.
Knabe and Chris Ohman hit back-to-back three-pointers to trim the Lions lead back to three with halftime approaching.
In the closing seconds of the second period, Knabe got the ball on an inbound, took a couple of steps over the half-court line, and hurled a shot over two Cottage Grove defenders that banked in at the buzzer to tie the game at 24 going into halftime. The made three from the Tigers sent the home crowd into a frenzy and completely shifted the momentum toward Junction City going into the second half.
“We only gave up 24 points in that first half,” said Hutchison. “So I thought that it was a really good defensive effort. But once they were up, they shortened the game on us and that was that.”
The Tigers came out of the locker room at halftime and seized the momentum starting the third quarter on a 9-0 run. Ty Kishen broke the run with a strong drive to the hoop for a score. But just like they have done all year, Junction City slowly started to suck all the air out of the room by holding the ball for long periods of time. The Tigers held the ball for over a minute to close out the third quarter but after being held scoreless on their last possession, they still held a 39-29 lead over Cottage Grove going into the fourth quarter.
To start the final quarter Knabe hit back-to-back threes that seemingly took the last wind out of the Lions sails. Murphy and Bascue were able to score for Cottage Grove down the stretch but Junction City’s lead was too large to recover from as the Tigers closed out the waning minutes of the game for a win 57-42.
“Our goals are still ahead of us,” said Hutchison. “I think we have a ton of motivation going into this last week, an opportunity to not only play in state but host a state game. And taking the three-spot in the Sky-Em league is a huge motivation for us.”
Cottage Grove enters the end of the regular season with a good shot for postseason play. The Lions will look to close out their last home game with a win on senior night against Siuslaw on Feb. 18 at 7:15 p.m.