Southridge senior guard Kaden Groenig made three three-pointers and scored 20 points in Tuesday's win. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Southridge senior guard Kaden Groenig made three three-pointers and scored 20 points in Tuesday's win. (Photo by Jon Olson)

The way the Southridge Skyhawks have been coming together since the end of the last boys basketball season, coach Phil Vesel said it was just a matter of time before their offense exploded this season.

And that time came Tuesday night, when the fourth-ranked Skyhawks (4-0) torched the nets for 20 three-pointers and a school-record point total in a 116-65 home win over South Eugene.

Southridge shot 58.4 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent on three-pointers (20 for 32). The hot shooting started early and never let up as six different players connected from behind the arc for the Skyhawks, who threatened the state record of 23 three-pointers, set by Sherwood in 2020.

“In practice, we get a lot of shots up, a lot of threes,” said senior guard Carter Fortune, a fourth-year starter and a Metro League first-team pick last year. “We play fast, so we shoot a lot. Once one person starts hitting, everyone starts hitting. It's contagious.”

The free-flowing offense and deadly marksmanship was a beautiful sight for Vesel.

“We have so many guys that can shoot it,” Vesel said. “Our emphasis is on trusting it's going to come back to you, and tonight we showed that. We've been kind of grinding in practice to get to this point, and I felt like tonight, especially the way we moved the ball and got out in transition, open shots was like a shooting drill for some of these guys.”

Through four games, Southridge is averaging 87.8 points per game, up from 62.2 last year.

“Our goal this year was to play fast,” Fortune said. “We're kind of changing up our play style from last year. Our offense is more potent this year, so we're trying to push it up and down, get the most shots we can. … We're clicking right now.”

The Skyhawks, with their entire starting lineup back from a team that went 18-7 and lost in the first round of the 6A playoffs, built confidence from going 21-0 in the summer.

“We took time and we tried to build more chemistry as we went into the season,” said senior guard Kaden Groenig, the team's other Metro first-team pick. “It's great. It's fun. We've been playing together for so long. Last year, it paid off, but this year we're slowly seeing it. We're hoping that in the end it will pay off.”

The Skyhawks got efficient games from their veterans Tuesday against the Axe (2-3), avenging a 74-73 loss at South Eugene last season.

Fortune hit 3 of 4 shots from deep and finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Groenig made 3 of 6 from behind the arc and posted 20 points. Junior guard Keenan Reckamp hit both of his three-point attempts and collected 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.

But it was the newcomers that stole the show. Freshman guard Elijah Thompson and sophomore guard Drew Groenig came off the bench to lead the way with 24 and 23 points, respectively.

The 5-foot-11 Thompson was 10 of 13 from the field, making all four of his three-point attempts, and added four assists. The 6-1 Drew Groenig shot 8 of 11 overall, 6 of 8 from deep, and had four steals.

“Those guys have had a little bit of a slow start getting going, so I knew they were due for one of these kind of games,” Vesel said of Thompson and Drew Groenig.

Thompson was sensational, showing poise beyond his years. After dominating for years in Southridge's youth program, he is ready to break out for the Skyhawks.

“I've always told him, you're going to be a four-year guy,” Vesel said. “And here he is, not just contributing, but being a key player for us. It's exciting to see what his future will be.”

Thompson is the son of Skyhawks JV coach Nejuan Thompson, who ran Southridge's youth program. Vesel said he expects Thompson to grow to about 6-1 or 6-2.

“If he does that, he's got a chance to be one of those multi-year all-state kids,” Vesel said. “He can set guys up and shoot it.”

Drew Groenig is cutting his teeth on varsity after leading Southridge's JV in scoring at 17.5 points per game as a freshman. Several of his three-pointers came from about five feet behind the arc.

“I know me and KG are out of here next year, but it's looking bright for Southridge in the future,” Fortune said.

For Southridge to contend in 6A this season, however, they need big seasons from Fortune and Kaden Groenig. Fortune is averaging a team-high 20.8 points per game.

“He's an elite player,” Vesel said. “He's got such a great feel for the game, we give him a lot of freedom to run the show for us. The great part is then you have Kaden Groenig, who gives us a different tempo and shiftiness. So when he handles it, it's a different feel. You've got two elite guards handling the ball, it makes my job really easy.”

Interior defense and rebounding will go a long way toward determining Southridge's success. Junior wing Alonzo Hoff (6-7) and senior post Dante Scott (6-4) – both returning starters – need to play big.

Vesel said the Skyhawks could be as good as the 2017-18 team that went 25-4, won the Metro title and made the 6A quarterfinals.

“That team was a little different,” Vesel said. “This team shoots it better. That team had a little more size to it. But this is the best offensive team I've had here. There are so many guys. When you share it, it's hard to guard.”

Southridge will play Nelson, Cleveland and Jefferson before facing some of the state's top teams in the Les Schwab Invitational. Fortune said the Skyhawks have something to prove after the way last season ended.

“We had a first-round exit, and that's what's been on our minds lately,” Fortune said. “Just pushing to go deeper in the playoffs, and essentially go to state, win a state title.”