Jesuit's Pat Kilfoil (1) drives against the defense of West Linn's Pat Viavla Jr. on Tuesday night. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Jesuit's Pat Kilfoil (1) drives against the defense of West Linn's Pat Viavla Jr. on Tuesday night. (Photo by Jon Olson)

WEST LINN – After missing the 6A boys basketball state tournament the last two seasons, longtime state power Jesuit is looking to get back to the Chiles Center this year.

And the No. 7 Crusaders (7-4) have made steady progress throughout the first month, picking up another solid win Tuesday night by erasing a double-digit deficit in the second half to win 63-62 at West Linn, the team that eliminated them in the round of 16 the last two seasons.

“I feel like we're seriously coming along,” said senior forward Nico Rafalovich, who scored a game-high 24 points. “I feel like we're just getting started, though. We've been playing some tough competition and we've come up short a few times, but we've also won some big-time games.”

In the Les Schwab Invitational last week, Jesuit split four games. The Crusaders lost to Perry (Ariz.) 79-67, defeated West Linn 71-58 and 5A No. 1 Summit 80-79 and finished the tournament with a hard-fought 75-72 loss to No. 6 Tualatin.

Gene Potter, who has coached Jesuit to 639 wins and seven state titles in 32 seasons, sees encouraging signs.

“I think we're starting to play better basketball,” Potter said. “We're getting contributions from more people. Kids that have never played varsity athletics before are starting to figure things out.”

Chemistry has been a key factor, according to junior guard Pat Kilfoil.

“We're like a family. We trust each other,” Kilfoil said. “The jump from being OK to great, that's what we're working toward. And today, that was the motivation. Seeding for the playoffs, last year that hurt us, so today it was like it was a must-win game.”

West Linn (4-7), eager to make up for its loss to Jesuit at the LSI, took control in the second quarter and led 41-29 in the third quarter when the Crusaders started to chip away. The 6-foot-6 Rafalovich scored 10 points as Jesuit outscored West Linn 20-5 to pull ahead 49-46 early in the fourth quarter.

“We started off really bad, really slow,” Rafalovich said. “Everyone was flat. But coming in at halftime, we made some adjustments and then we just executed really well.”

West Linn retook the lead, but Kilfoil hit a three-pointer to put Jesuit ahead to stay at 55-54 with 2:24 left. Leading 59-57 with 12 seconds left, Rafalovich was intentionally fouled by junior Gavin Gross on a inbound play near half-court, but Rafalovich was called for a technical foul on the play.

After Rafalovich split two free throws, West Linn senior Nick DiGiulio made two technical free throws to make it 60-59 with 10 seconds left, and the Lions were awarded possession with a chance to take the lead.

During a timeout, officials checked with the scorekeepers and added a point to Jesuit's total for what was believed to be a scoring error, making it 61-59. The Lions inbounded and DiGiulio missed a running shot off the glass with three seconds left, and Kilfoil added two free throws with 00.5 seconds on the clock for a 63-59 edge.

West Linn junior Jalen Snook picked up a rolling inbound pass and hit a three-pointer from near half-court at the buzzer for the final margin.

Potter said it was the type of “gutsy win” the Crusaders will need in a tough Metro League that includes No. 3 Southridge, No. 4 Beaverton and No. 10 Mountainside.

“There are no nights off,” Potter said of the Metro schedule. “You've got to be ready to go. That's why playing here in that kind of game was so important because I think there's going to be quite a few games like that in the Metro League.”

Rafalovich, who suffered a broken hand on the second day of practice and did not return until the team's second game, is starting to find a groove on offense. He had 26 points in the win over Summit and has boosted his scoring average to 16.6.

“It set me back a significant amount,” Rafalovich said of the broken hand. “I wasn't able to shoot. I worked with my off-hand a little bit, but even coming back, my hand was hurting a lot even though it was healed. It stopped hurting two weeks ago, and ever since then it's been gradually getting better, getting back into shape.”

Kilfoil, who missed most of his sophomore season with a broken foot, is finding his shooting stroke. In the last two games of the LSI, he made 11 three-pointers and scored 57 points. On Tuesday, he drilled four three-pointers and had 16 points.

“He would've been a varsity player last year, but didn't get to play until the last couple games,” Potter said of Kilfoil, who averages 16.7 points. “He would have played big minutes last year and had returning experience, and now he's kind of getting into the swing of things.”

Kilfoil is hungry to make up for lost time.

“It was so tough, sitting and watching,” Kilfoil said. “Even losing to West Linn, that was in the back of my mind, coming here and losing. I just wanted to come here and win.”

Jesuit won despite standout freshman guard Isaac Bongen – who entered with a team-best 17.1 scoring average – managing just two points before fouling out with one minute left.

DiGuilio and Snook scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Lions, each making three three-pointers. Freshman point guard Pat Viavla Jr. added 11 points.

West Linn, the 6A runner-up last season and a semifinalist in 2022, is rebuilding after graduating five starters, including the 6A player of the year in point guard Jackson Shelstad, now at Oregon. The Lions start two seniors and two juniors alongside the promising Viavla, who is averaging 13.7 points.

Viavla watched Shelstad closely at West Linn.

“I try to copy him a little with my game,” Viavla said.