By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Mac juniors, rejuvenated

FOREST GROVE – McMinnville boys basketball coach Willie Graham sat in the team locker room at Forest Grove High School, ruminating over the Grizzlies’ ninth consecutive victory Tuesday night, when he recalled a statement made by junior Matthew Long.

The time was during McMinnville’s non-conference schedule, and the concern was junior point guard Tanner Autencio. Normally an able scorer, Autencio was playing passive offensively and barely averaging more than a point per game. He was outwardly down and dismayed. Long saw much more than what the stat sheet told him.

“Tanner has been playing the best of anybody on the team,” Graham remembered Long saying.

The statement, Graham said, woke Autencio up. He played more assertive basketball. He looked to attack the rim. He looked for his shot. And he never stopped being the point guard – the player that organizes and directs the offense.

“Tanner’s confidence started to rise and rise and rise,” Graham said.

Autencio finished Tuesday nights’ 57-50 victory over the Vikings with eight points, five assists and three steals. High school basketball statisticians are not yet capable of tracking drives to the basket, dishes to open post players, kickouts to open perimeter shooters.

Nor can they quantify the emotional impact of Autencio’s loudest moment. After Forest Grove post Ben Godfrey traveled with 1.6 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Autencio received an inbounds pass and launched a 35-footer that swished through the net as time expired. McMinnville led 49-41 at that point and would never trail.

“All season long, everybody hits buzzer beaters on us,” Graham said. “We finally hit one.”

Long, too, earned a measure of redemption. In the infancy of the Grizzlies’ winning streak, Long was demoted from the starting lineup and has come off the bench as McMinnville’s sixth man. Long finished Tuesday’s game with 12 points and five rebounds, including eight points in the first half as the Grizzlies beat back the hot-shooting Vikings (15-9, 8-6 Class 6A Pacific Conference).

Long made two of McMinnville’s three field goals in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies held on for dear life, overcoming self-inflicted adversity – a technical foul that led to a four-point Forest Grove possession – and the increased physicality of the Vikings.

“It’s nice to win on a night when we didn’t have our best stuff,” Graham said. “The kids made just enough plays to win.”

Autencio made plays with his passes and his drives. Vince Boumann finished them; the 6-foot-7 senior cleaned up to the tune of 21 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Gage Gubrud, he of the 128 points in McMinnville’s last five contests (all wins), scored five points against Forest Grove.

“The law of averages,” Graham said, “says Vince and Gage can’t play 13 great games in a row.”

For it is, truly, a team effort to finish the regular season with an 18-5 record (10-4 Pacific), a win against every Pacific Conference opponent – the Vikings fell in their brand-new home court on Senior Night, no less – a second-place league finish and an assured spot in the Class 6A state playoffs.

Also likely in the offing is a home playoff game, confines in which the Grizzlies are 8-3 in 2013-14, with a student section unified in its quest for disruption.

Everyone will be ready, from the boys in uniform to the community members atop The Furance’s second level, because everyone must be.

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