Creswell, Sports Zone

Bulldog boys clinch regular-season crown

CRESWELL – The Creswell Bulldog boys basketball team clinched the Mountain Valley Conference championship last week with a 60-41 home win over Sisters. The win also avenged Creswell’s sole conference loss, the cherry on top of an incredible regular season. It was the first conference title for Creswell since 2019-’20, and the first one that the team has clinched at home during head coach Jesse Thomas’ tenure.

“It’s exciting. That’s been the primary goal of the year, to win the league,” Thomas said. “Being able to do it at home was awesome. I haven’t been able to do that in any of the league titles that we’ve won since I’ve been coaching. One we clinched at Coquille (2017-’18) and the other one was at Santiam, so it was nice to actually get a home one.”

A home win meant picture day for the team, decked out in conference championship shirts that they had made before the game, a sign of the team’s confidence heading into the final week. Thomas attributes a big part of the recent confidence to the return of senior AJ Hodge, one of the team’s leaders on and off the court.

“Max (Velarde) and Connor (Hanson) have carried so much of the load, and Tyler Whitson’s chipped in as well, just carrying the load while AJ was out,” Thomas said. “With AJ back, I just feel like they’re even more confident. I’m so happy that he’s healthy. It’s permeating through the whole team, they’re just happier.”

The confidence showed big-time in the Sisters win, Velarde leading the way with 14 points and 5 boards, Hodge with 13 and 5, and Whitson with 12 and 4. Couple that with Hanson running point and the defense of Jack Nguyen and the Bulldogs have one of the more formidable starting lineups in Class 3A.

What’s scarier is that Thomas feels like the team is only now hitting its stride. It’s something every coach deals with, finding a way to get the team to peak at the right time. Whatever Creswell did this year, it’s working.

“I’m proud of them, the way that they played tonight and really, the last few games. I think they’re starting to put it together for sustained periods,” Thomas said. “When we’re at full strength, and obviously when we’re playing well, I know we can compete with anybody.”

Now the Bulldogs look forward to the playoffs, where everyone’s a contender. The talent and confidence are there for Creswell, now it’s just about fixing the little things and staying focused on the task at hand, something Thomas isn’t worried about.

“We’ll keep them grounded and focused, and that’ll be our challenge for the next 10 days or so, but I know they’re excited, “ he said. “The message to them is play the right way, play hard, and see what happens. If we play well then we have enough talent to be able to hang with anybody.”



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