Woodburn junior guard Cruz Veliz, a third-year starter, is averaging a team-high 19 points per game. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Woodburn junior guard Cruz Veliz, a third-year starter, is averaging a team-high 19 points per game. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

Success has been spotty at best for Woodburn boys basketball over the years.

The Bulldogs had only six winning seasons between 1990 and 2018. After appearing in the state tournament in 1960, they didn't make it back until finishing as runners-up in 1995.

In the six seasons since Raul Veliz took over as coach, though, Woodburn has enjoyed its most consistent run of success. The Bulldogs made the 4A semifinals in 2019 – their first state tournament since 1995 – and they have continued winning even after moving up to the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference last season.

Woodburn, ranked No. 4 in the OSAAtoday 5A coaches poll, is on the brink of a repeat title in the Mid-Willamette and is looking like a threat to make some noise in the postseason. The Bulldogs (18-4, 15-1) extended their winning streak to 15 on Tuesday at home by beating No. 8 South Albany 62-50.

“We definitely have the pieces, there's no question about that,” said Veliz, who is 105-38 at Woodburn. “We have some size, we have the guard play. We have a bench that has come into their own in the second half of league.”

The Bulldogs returned three starters from a state tournament team in 5-foot-11 junior guard Cruz Veliz, 6-4 senior forward Brody Hawley and 6-9 senior post Liam Slattum.

Cruz leads the team in scoring at 19 points per game. Slattum and Hawley – who both transferred from 6A West Salem as juniors – are contributing 14 and 12 points per game, respectively.

The Bulldogs served notice to the state in December with a 57-47 win over No. 3 Wilsonville, the three-time reigning 5A champion, in the Capitol City Classic. It avenged a 46-26 loss to the Wildcats in the state quarterfinals last year.

“Wilsonville is a machine,” Raul Veliz said. “We knew going into it that we could compete with them. We didn't have our best showing in the state tournament. We definitely had a little feel of what they could do up close and personal. We had to play our style of basketball.”

Beating Wilsonville gave Woodburn a jolt of confidence against top teams.

“In a game that's close or tight, we've been there, we've done it against really, really good teams,” Raul Veliz said. “You can see it on the bench. The boys are confident, they're calm.”

Woodburn also has two wins over No. 5 West Albany (19-4, 14-2), the second-place team in the Mid-Willamette. In a 61-60 win at West Albany in the second round of conference play, Cruz Veliz made a steal and fed 6-3 sophomore Anthony Figueredo for the go-ahead layup with seven seconds left.

Cruz Veliz is the coach's son and the brother of former Woodburn standout RJ Veliz, who graduated in 2019 and went on to a college career at Western Oregon. A third-year starter, he has become more of a vocal leader as a junior.

“Last year it started to creep in, and this year it's been a big positive for us,” Raul Veliz said of the leadership shown by his son, who was a first-team all-conference selection as a sophomore.

Cruz Veliz, who averages four steals per game, makes his presence felt on both ends of the court.

“He always makes the right plays,” Raul Veliz said. “Defensively, he does a lot to mess with other teams' guards. Having two older brothers, his competitiveness has always come through. I think it's like, 'Man, this stuff is easy compared to my brothers.'”

Slattum, second-team all-conference last season, has added to his inside moves this season and is a force on defense, blocking three shots per game. He is dangerous on the perimeter, too, shooting 42 percent from three-point range in conference play. He

“You have to guard him outside,” Raul Veliz said. “But you have to know he's 6-9 and he can get the ball inside. I know the next level for him, he's going to have to be outside-inside, and probably more outside. But for our level, we need him a little more inside.”

Figueredo and 5-11 junior Dylon Renteria joined the starting lineup this season. Juniors Fernando Del Rio (5-9) and Logan Taylor (6-3) have emerged off the bench.

Raul Veliz said he doesn't know if the Bulldogs are better than a year ago, when they won their first conference title in 15 years. But they are more together as a group.

“I think that has helped us be a little bit better as a team,” he said. “Individually, we've gotten a lot better, and that has made our team better.”

Woodburn can clinch the outright conference title by beating Lebanon (3-20, 1-15) and Central (12-10, 10-6) in its last two games.