School may be about learning the ABCs, but for Jefferson basketball, it’s about the As.
No. 1 Jefferson added another A to its expanding boys basketball trophy case Saturday afternoon, beating stubborn Clackamas 70-67 to win the school’s first Class 6A state championship in Chiles Center.
Geno West scored 28 points, including nine during the final three minutes, to lead the Democrats.
It was the ninth boys basketball state title for Jefferson, which has previously won championships in Class A, AAA, 4A and 5A.
“Jefferson basketball is the best basketball program in the state, 6A, 5A, 1A,” Portland Interscholastic League athletic director Marshall Haskins excitedly proclaimed while congratulating Democrats coach Pat Strickland.
Hard to argue, at least in 2016-17, as Jefferson (27-1) ran the table against in-state opponents, losing only to out-of-state Gonzaga College (D.C.) at the Les Schwab Invitational. The Democrats fittingly found their toughest Oregon opponent in the final game, as No. 3 Clackamas – a team that had lost to Jefferson 80-54 in December – fully extended the Democrats.
Jefferson dusted off an old tradition after the game, as the players encircled Strickland at mid-court and danced.
“We practiced our chant a little at the gym this morning. Boys deserved it,” said Strickland, who previously coached Jefferson to 5A state titles in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
It was the second 6A state boys basketball title for a PIL school; Grant won in 2008.
Clackamas (24-5) was gunning for the school’s first boys basketball state championship, and for all but the final few seconds, had plenty of reason to believe Saturday was going to be the day. The Cavaliers kept pace with Jefferson despite playing most of the game with star guard Elijah Gonzales in foul trouble. The Portland State-bound Gonzales sat for long stretches of the first and second half, but still had plenty of impact, scoring 22 points in 22 minutes of action.
“It was huge. Taking him out of the game, arguably the best player in the state,” Strickland said.
Unsung players like Cole Turner (17 points, seven rebounds) and Matt O’Brien (11 points, 10 rebounds) not only kept the Cavaliers close, but helped give Clackamas the lead for stretches.
Jefferson had its own surprising hero in guard Thomas Miles, who hit 7 of 12 shots and scored 20 points. In two games against Clackamas this season, Miles hit 17 of 24 shots and scored 44 points.
“I would have to say it’s defense. I’m guarding Elijah and that gets me in the game. I’m just more into it,” Miles said.
Jefferson did not have its way with Clackamas as it did in December. It was competitive throughout the first half, which ended tied 34-34 on a last-second three-pointer by West.
The Democrats had often overwhelmed teams in the third quarter this season, but the Cavaliers were ready. Clackamas went on a 10-1 run late in the quarter, capped by O’Brien’s three-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a 46-45 lead.
The fourth quarter was tremendous theater, as the teams exchanged leads seven times. Jefferson finally seized control for good when West hit a three-pointer with 2:51 remaining to give the Democrats a 62-60 lead.
West then assisted on a layup by Amari Stafford and later hit four free throws to put Jefferson in front 68-62 with 17.9 seconds left. Kamaka Hepa, the 6-9 junior forward who went 0 for 7 from the field but grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots, closed out the win on two free throws with 11 seconds left.
“6A, 5A, 2A, it don’t matter,” Strickland said. “Give us a ball in the gym and we’ll play anybody.”