With a week to go before the end of the regular season, Cottage Grove is trying to embody the mindset of a playoff team.
“We’re trying to have the mentality of it’s the playoffs now. We’re fighting for our lives. Every single game from here on out is the most important game of the season. If we let one slip by, who knows what could happen,” said Cottage Grove head coach Nick Finley last Tuesday after a win at Junction City.
The Lions push for the regular season had mixed results last week as the team beat Junction City on Tuesday but fell at Sutherlin on Friday. The Lions are now third in the Sky-Em league and are ranked 12th in the state.
On Tuesday night, it was the Lions holding off the Tigers to get a 67-62 victory in their most important game of the season. Until the next game.
In the early going, it was all Cottage Grove.
“They came out firing on all cylinders. They were pushing the ball in transition like I haven’t seen them. With passes, not just dribbles but passing the ball down the floor,” said Finley.
What started as defensive pressure from Erick Giffen and Jesse Ellingworth turned into easy scores and a 15-0 run that extended into the second quarter and had the entire team working.
“It was awesome. Trenton knocking down shots, DeJean knocking down shots, Jordan getting every rebound,” said Finley.
Ellingworth finished with a team-high 21 points and Hagewood gathered 10 rebounds on the game.
But as has been a recurrence this season, the Lions were unable to put together a complete performance.
“You’ve watched us enough, at some point in the game we have a letdown. It sucks that it came in the fourth quarter tonight,” said Finley.
After initially withstanding any semblance of a Tigers run, the Lions began to come apart in the closing quarter. Junction City changing up their defense and the Cottage Grove offense stalling created the perfect storm of a Tigers comeback.
“They went to a 1-3-1 which we were prepared for. We’ve practiced against it in practice getting ready for it and we knew we were going to see it eventually. We have shooters, it shouldn’t bother us,” said Finley.
“It was really self-inflicted I felt like. It was us turning the ball over, us fouling. Us missing free throws. Things we were doing, not necessarily what they were doing.”
What was once a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter was whittled down to just a six-point Lions lead in the final two minutes. The Lions had a chance to end any hope from the Lions but missed four free throws in a row in the final minute and a half. Hayden Glenn then righted their wrongs as he hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left to give the Lions a win.
On the road on Friday, the Lions fell to tenth ranked Sutherlin 54-46. Ellingworth had 28 points for Cottage Grove.