Sports Zone, Springfield

Thurston coach: ‘They don’t give up, and they don’t give in …’

SPRINGFIELD – Losing close games is never fun. Losing close games where you had a fourth-quarter lead is less so. Yet, for the Thurston Colts boys basketball team, having a fourth-quarter lead over No. 2 North Eugene both times the teams played this season has given the Colts the belief that they can play with the best. 

“After the first time we played them I just looked at our guys and said, ‘Do you believe now?’ This time I said, ‘Are we going to get better now?’ Because we still have to improve, and we have Eagle Point twice, Springfield, and Crater left – all big games,” said Thurston coach Blaine Liberatore after the most recent loss. “We’ve got to continue to get better every single day. And if we do that, and we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season – which I have all confidence we will be – then I think we can play with anybody.”

The Colts fell to the Highlanders at North Eugene 58-56 in late January, then lost last Tuesday 60-53 at Thurston. Junior Nate Stiffler led the Colts with a game-high 20 points, and North Eugene’s Jonas Spencer had 18. 

Thurston trailed for much of last week’s game, though never by much, including by one after the first quarter, and three at halftime. Late in the third quarter North Eugene took a 41-33 lead and seemed to be pulling away, but the Colts ended the quarter on a 7-2 run and took a brief lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.

“They don’t give up, and they don’t give in, which is pretty cool. They have a pretty good resolve, too. We were down at their place and we lost by two, and we were down with a minute and a half to go before we briefly took the lead,” Liberatore said of the team’s ability to battle back. “It happened against South Eugene, when we beat them, we came back when we were down with a minute and a half left. It’s happened multiple times throughout the year. So that’s just kind of what these guys do – not necessarily get down – but they don’t give in.”

Two key differences in the loss were free throws and rebounding as North Eugene hit seven more free throws and outrebounded the Colts 25-19 – including 9 offensive rebounds for the Highlanders.

“Rebounding, that was the big thing. Close games are gonna come down to rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. And they beat us in those three categories tonight,” Liberatore said. 

North Eugene moved to 20-3 overall and 10-1 in Midwestern League play – all but locking up the league title. The Colts bounced back with a 58-49 win on Friday over Eagle Point to move to 14-7 overall and 7-2 in league.

Thurston already has clinched its first postseason appearance since the 2019 season, but the Colts have a key matchup against No. 8 Crater – a team Thurston beat 61-57 in OT last time out – this Friday in a game that will likely decide the second-place finisher in league. For Liberatore, the plan moving forward is a simple one.

“It starts with keeping the ball in front, right. And (North Eugene)’s tough because they put five guys out there that can break it down,” Liberatore said. “But defensively, we just got to keep the ball in front. Then we don’t have to help as much, and then rebounding becomes easier. Rebounding is an attitude … it’s an attitude, and we just need to get a little bit of that attitude back.”



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