Rusty Rae/News-Register##
Max Lommen (left) and Aaron Baune(right) share a laugh with Dempsey Roggenbuck during practice Wednesday afternoon.
Rusty Rae/News-Register## Max Lommen (left) and Aaron Baune(right) share a laugh with Dempsey Roggenbuck during practice Wednesday afternoon.
By Rusty Rae • Of the News-Register • 

Wildcats ready for NWC clashes

 

Linfield University head basketball coach Shanan Rosenberg predicts his squad will become world class lemonade-makers after the team’s two-game road trip to Whitman and Whitworth this weekend were postponed Thursday morning due to travel issues. The closure of I-84 during a winter storm put the k-bosh on the trip. It’s likely, based solely on travel logistics, the two games will not be made up, Rosenberg adds with a chuckle, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”

Their first game was scheduled at Walla Walla and Whitman University Friday, and with the Pirates of Whitworth Saturday. Now it’s back to the hardwoods for more practice and preparation in the hopes the team can open the 2023 season Tuesday with a NWC contest against Pacific University.

Playing leading roles for the Wildcats this year are a pair of fifth-year COVID seniors and one regular senior. These three, NWC first team power forward Dempsey Roggenbuck, versatile guard/forward Max Lommen, and former McMinnville Grizzly ace Aaron Baune have forged a relationship around the brotherhood of basketball.  Surrounded by a legion of talented supporting players, any of whom on any given night are capable of all-star performances, Rosenberg believes his team has improved in all phases of the game from a year ago.

With the postponement and likely cancellation of the two games in Eastern Washington, Rosenberg may have to wait until next year for his first road game win against the Pirates. He will see both Whits on the Linfield home court the first weekend of February, likely to settle the league championship. However, Rosenberg also realizes PLU, UPS, Lewis & Clark, and cross county neighbor George Fox all have the potential to derail the Wildcat train.

Two seasons ago, Rosenberg’s Wildcats shared the NWC title, downing both Whitman and Whitworth in back-to-back home games at the end of the season at Ted Wilson Gymnasium. The Linfield season ended abruptly in the first round of the conference playoffs when Whitman dropped Linfield by 85-70 margin.

Last year, during the COVID-shortened season, Linfield went 10-2 against teams from Western Oregon, most from the NWC. The quest for another conference championship began the first weekend in December with two wins, 69-67 on the road at UPS, and 87-60 against the Pioneers on the ‘Cats’ home court.

 For this band of hoop brothers, the focus is not merely a conference title, but breaking through to the NCAA DIII national championship tournament – which will entail winning the NWC post-season tournament, comprised of the top four teams.

That accomplishment requires Linfield to capture the conference title (or at least qualify for the conference tourney), and to win the conference tournament to earn the automatic bid to the playoffs.

The ‘Cats (7-3, 2-0 NWC) are off to a strong start. Their three losses, all on the road, have been against upper crust competition. Linfield dropped an overtime contest 83-76 to Pomona-Pitzer, gave up an eight-point halftime lead to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a 79-72 loss, and without Roggenbuck, fell to Eastern Oregon, 82-64 prior to the Christmas break.

As a matter of comparison, Whitworth put away both Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps by double digits during their December SOCAL sojourns. Those victories gave the ‘Cats an idea of the level of play they’ll need to realize make their dream of a conference championship.

Roggenbuck, a 6-4 do-everything power forward, is the leader of the Wildcats. Out for two or three games during December, he announced his return in the ‘Cats’ in their last game, a December 28 contest against Warner Pacific, with a 34-point outburst. For his stellar effort he was named the NWC basketball student-athlete of the week.

As the “old man” of this squad, he says he finds it “kinda cool” being the senior guy on the team. “It’s been a long time coming – kinda refreshing for sure. Seeing a couple of classes go through before me – it’s like having a big old family,” he adds.

Roggenbuck’s performance against the Knights pushed his career point total to 1,724, and into fifth-place on the Linfield all-time scoring list.

He maintains the COVID year allowed him the opportunity to develop his skills further, but added, “It was great to see everyone on the team grow.”

Lommen, in the Warner-Pacific contest, was scoreless from the field, but helped Linfield to the hard-fought 77-74 win with a perfect six-for-six performance from the charity stripe during the last exciting 40 seconds. He was 10 for 14 on the night at the free-throw line.

The other fifth year senior said he felt super lucky to be able to return for a fifth year. He sees some gold in the COVID-shortened season since it gave the team a chance to unite – and to learn the nuances of the team’s offensive and defensive sets.

“For me, last year gave me the chance to grow in my confidence of the game – my awareness on the court—where to be, when to be, who to pass to – stuff like that.

“I don’t have to think about the game – it’s become more natural as time has gone on,” he said.

Baune also saw significant growth in his game -- not so much playing ability – but more in his leadership skills.

“I’ve grown a lot as a leader. We’ve got a lot of new guys – teaching them the ropes – trying to make sure the competition is up to our standards – like I’ve been taught over the years,” he said.

Baune said he’s grown significantly, as well, becoming more of a playmaker. “In high school I shot a lot, scored a lot. Now I’ve adapted to doing a little of everything and becoming a playmaker – getting others involved,” he said.

Baune said he thought he’s always had the playmaker gene – but Rosenberg helped him to show it more these days with where he plays in the Linfield system. “I have more opportunities to show that skill,” he said.

Indeed, during a scrimmage in preparation for the now-postponed Washington swing, Baune moved from the top of the key to the post slot, took a pass, was double-covered. He passed to Roggenbuck on the wing, who hit the breaking Lommen for an easy lay-up.High-fives around ensued after the play.

Notes Rosenberg, “Aaron’s turned himself into a whopper of a player. He’s a tremendous leader who is respected by everyone on the team.” Rosenberg hopes Baune will take full advantage of his fifth year.

While the big three lead the ‘Cats, Rosenberg notes there are additional players with new faces that Linfield fans will appreciate.

At the top of list is freshman Trey Bryant from Springfield. A point guard, Rosenberg said the youngster has earned his minutes with his solid basketball skills. Paired with Bryan is COVID freshman Jackson Dupree, who has worked his way into productive minutes off the bench.

Another newcomer is transfer Jacob Hjort, a 6-2 guard-forward, who spent time at Western Oregon and Whitworth before moving to Linfield. He’s had significant minutes off the bench for the ‘Cats.

Another freshman who has impressed Rosenberg is Cayden Lowenbach, a 6-6 forward, who was on the first undefeated basketball team at Crook County High School and was named conference Player of the Year.

Also drawing praise from the Linfield head man is former Newberg Tiger Alex Jaczko, a 6-5 forward; He started half the games this year and now comes off the bench.

“He’s epitomizes what should be right about this whole process. He didn’t play as a freshman, played some spot minutes last year and did well. He kept great humility and drive to get better and he’s started half the games this year.

“He comes off the bench – his minutes haven’t really changed – and he’s turned himself into a real fortune for our team,” Rosenberg said.

Jaczko, like Baune, has developed the skills to be an all-around player and playmaker; like Baune, when given the opportunity, shows the ability to drop in beautiful rainbow threes.

Comments

@@pager@@