HILLSBORO – Lots of patience will be necessary for Central Catholic's young boys basketball team as it takes baby steps this season.
In the first month of the season, though, the Rams appear to be ahead of schedule.
Central Catholic, No. 4 in the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll, underscored its early success Monday in the first round of the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational, blowing out to a 23-point lead in the second quarter and turning back Lake Oswego 64-53 at Liberty High School.
The Rams – who also hold wins over South Medford and No. 5 Jesuit, two perennially strong 6A programs – improved to 4-2 with the win. Considering they replaced four starters from a team that went 22-5 and won the Mt. Hood Conference title, the early returns are highly encouraging.
“We try to instill a lot of confidence in them,” Central Catholic coach David Blue said. “We want to run to the fight. We're young, but I want them to feel like when they step on the court, they can play with anyone.”
Sophomore guard Isaac Carr, the lone returning starter from last season, had a team-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and three steals Monday. Freshman point guard Zamir Paschal came off the bench to add a season-high 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Without a senior starter, Central Catholic's prospects are tantalizing.
“We're super young. We have a lot of potential to be good,” said the 6-foot-3 Carr, who leads the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game. “If we come together, and put the pieces together, I think we can be super good.”
Added Paschal: “I know we have a bright future. We don't have much experience, but I think that's also something that can bring us together.”
The Rams, playing their first game since going 1-2 at the Curtis (Wash.) Winter Classic Dec. 15-17, jumped all over Lake Oswego (3-5). Carr opened the game with a three-pointer and a put-back basket as Central Catholic took a 10-0 lead. Carr had 14 points as the lead grew to 30-8 with 4:47 left in the first half.
“We want to try to get it going right from the start, and get on them,” Carr said.
Lake Oswego's Winters Grady, a 6-7 sophomore who entered the tournament averaging a 6A-high 31.4 points per game, had only four points in the first half as the Rams forced him into difficult shots.
“He was definitely our main focus,” Carr said. “We just tried to be physical with him and not let him get in a rhythm.”
The 5-11 Paschal had 11 points in the first half, knocking down three three-pointers and converting a steal into a basket. With his quickness, tight handle and sticky hands, he created problems for the Lakers.
“He's a special talent, as you can see,” Blue said. “He's tough. He finishes games for us. He handles the ball, knocks down some shots, and he's a menace on the defensive end, as well.”
Carr said that Paschal has been “playing great lately. He's young. He's got tons of potential.”
The Rams built the lead to 34-11 in the second quarter and were up 39-19 at half. Junior wing Marley Zeller finished a break with an emphatic jam to make it 44-21 with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
That's when the Lakers made a push. Grady hit two three-pointers late in the third quarter, then buried another one to finish a 9-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter as Lake Oswego drew within 50-41 with 5:37 to go.
It was starting to look like last last year, when Central Catholic let an 11-point lead slip away in the final four minutes of a first-round loss to Beaverton at the LSI.
“Of course that was in my head, playing over and over, when they came back at the end,” Blue said.
But the Rams got a big three-pointer from senior Gray Thompson to stop the surge, and Paschal converted a three-point play to keep the lead at 56-45 with 2:18 to go. The Lakers got no closer than 60-53 with 34 seconds left.
Lake Oswego coach Marshall Cho, whose team split four games at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii last week, lamented his team's slow start.
“The only thing I can say about our start is we didn't control the control-ables,” he said. “All the winning habits that you've seen our program show over the years, we didn't do that today. So that's really disappointing.”
Grady shot 8 of 27 from the field, including 3 of 8 from three-point range, and finished with season-low 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. He often shot off-balance as the Rams sent multiple players at him, keeping him from getting to his spots.
“It's going to be like this all year,” Cho said of the defense on Grady. “We'll have to do it as a staff. We'll do it all together.”
Central Catholic advances to a Wednesday quarterfinal to play the winner of Tuesday's game between Jesuit and Sierra Canyon (Calif.), a national power that features the sons of LeBron James -- Bronny and Bryce.
“That would be so much fun,” Carr said of the possible matchup with Sierra Canyon. “That's the kind of thing, as a basketball player, that's what you look forward to. Playing in a game like that, it'll be super cool in here. It'll be crazy. We'll be trying to get the upset.”
Blue is looking at the big picture.
“We're not only playing for this year, but we're building, to build up our culture again,” Blue said. “COVID really did a number on us. I felt we had some really talented teams that missed out on opportunities to play the last three years.”
Monday's other first-round games:
No. 2 Lincoln 88, Tigard 85: The senior Seely-Roberts twins led the Cardinals (5-0) past the Tigers (5-2). Malachi Seely-Roberts had 29 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Moroni Seely-Roberts had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Each made three three-pointers. Tigard got 23 points apiece from Kalim Brown and Douglas Bailer, who made 7 of 14 from three-point range. Sawyer Wolf made five three-pointers and added 21 points for the Tigers. Lincoln led 45-39 at half and 71-61 after three quarters.
No. 6 Tualatin 81, No. 7 Roosevelt 79: The Timberwolves (6-2) held off the Roughriders (2-1) behind 30 points from Josiah Lake and 25 points and eight rebounds from Jaden Steppe. Chance White had 26 points and Utrillo Morris added 23 points and seven assists for Roosevelt.
No. 1 West Linn 87, No. 8 Barlow 60: The Lions (8-0) shot 56.5 percent and had five players score in double figures, led by Jackson Shelstad (21 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals) and Adrian Mosley (19 points, five assists), in the win over the Bruins (4-2). Barlow got 27 points from sophomore Jalen Atkins.