Sports Zone, Springfield

Thurston relying on its depth, balance

SPRINGFIELD – After losing their opener by 20 points to Parkrose, the Thurston Colts boys basketball team has won four in a row by a combined margin of 76 points. 

Last Thursday’s 72-59 win over Class 6A Willamette exemplified just why the Colts have started so well – a balanced offensive attack.

“I liked that we had different guys play and step up in different spots,” said Thurston coach Blaine Liberatore. “Our depth, I think, is one of our strengths this year. We have different lineups and different guys that can do different things to help us out. So that’s what I like.”

Thurston had four players score in double figures in the win over Willamette. Nate Stiffler led the way with 18 points, Luke Newell added 16 points and 7 rebounds, Noah Blair had 11, and Lucas LaBounty came off the bench to chip in 11 points.

“We’re balanced, and we’re deeper. It can be tough at times, because there’s one ball to go around, but we’re learning how to play with each other and do things for other guys to get other guys open,” Liberatore said. “And they’re buying into it. When we figure that out fully, we’re going to be tough because we got a lot of guys who can score.”

Thurston put up 72 points despite hitting only two three-pointers all night as the Colts were scoring at will in the paint and getting to the foul line, where they shot 22-for-26 as a team. Liberatore credited assistant coach Doug Piquette for helping develop individual offense on the team.

“Our ability to break people down and get into the paint is better than it’s been since probably the 2017-18 season,” Liberatore said. “And then rebounding, we work on it every day. For us, rebounding is an attitude, and our attitude is we want to rebound.”

Leading the way on the boards is Newell, a senior who grabbed 7 more rebounds in Thurston’s win over South Eugene on Saturday. Newell finished with 5 combined offensive rebounds in those games as well, a testament to the spark he brings to the team.

“Luke’s the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going and going. And the kid is always smiling, always having a good time, and he’s an incredible leader from a positivity standpoint,” Liberatore said. “He rebounds the ball at a high level, he can score in the paint at a high level. He just does so many things for us.”

While Newell and Thurston’s depth will be key this season, there’s no question who the team runs through. Stiffler, a 6-foot-5 junior, is averaging 15.5 points a game during the win streak, including 29 in a win over Milwaukie.

“(Nate)’s a three-level scorer, and a true three-level scorer. He’ll score in the paint, mid-range, and from three,” Liberatore said. “I think the place where he’s improved the most is just his ability to get by people with his burst, and then his ability to keep people in front of him on the other end. He defends at a pretty high level.”

Thurston’s Nate Stiffler goes up for a two-handed slam during the team’s win over Willamette. Stiffler led the team with 18 points on the night.

Liberatore noted that this season will be tough, as the Colts compete in a Midwestern League that is a combined 23-12 on the season and had four teams ranked in the preseason top 11: No. 3 North Eugene, No. 7 Churchill, No. 8 Thurston, and No. 11 Crater. 

The Colts have tough December non-league games as well that Liberatore said will force Thurston to “keep making plays and keep battling, which are gonna make us better.”



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