OAKLAND — Jeff Clark admits he doesn’t look too hot in a mohawk.
“Mine looks more like a half-hawk … more like a raccoon tail,” the 42-year-old Oakland High School principal and boys basketball coach said in a humorous tone Tuesday. “The things you do when you win.”
That’s the price Clark, his assistant coaches and players didn’t mind paying after winning the Class 2A state basketball championship late Saturday night with a 60-54 victory over previously-unbeaten Irrigon at the Pendleton Convention Center. It marked Oakland’s third state crown under Clark, following titles in 2000 and 2006.
The team decided to get mohawks after their state title. In 2000, the players and coaches got their heads shaved; in 2006, the players had a letter shaved into the back of their heads that spelled out ‘State Champs’ when everyone lined up correctly.
“The team wanted to do something in the spirit of the past two championships,” Clark said. “This was an extension of team bonding.”
The Oakers (24-5), who were ranked No. 3 in the final 2A coaches’ poll, put three good nights of basketball together en route to the title. They beat Vernonia 61-46 in the quarterfinals and defeated No. 5 Pilot Rock 50-42 in the semifinals prior to knocking off No. 2 Irrigon.
“We talked as coaches on the way over (to Pendleton) and thought we could go two-and-out or compete for it all if we stepped up and played to our potential,” Clark said. “We knew in the first half of the first game (against Vernonia) we’d taken another step as a team. We looked that much better.
“We got an amazing contribution off the bench and from the starters. We just had a different attitude and the drive out of the players was great to see. It made us realize we can do this. Our depth made a difference in all three games.”
The roster featured five seniors — Colton Reber, Connor Dolan, Logan O’Hara, Austin Collins and Jordan Bailey. Reber, Dolan and Collins were all first-team all-Mountain View Conference selections, and junior Jeb Harper was a spark In Pendleton, receiving first-team all-tournament honors coming off the bench.
Junior Austin Nix and sophomore Roy Benzel were starters, and juniors Michael Yard, Zack VanDeHey and Austin Baimbridge provided some key minutes off the bench along with sophomore Hayden Snow. Juniors Toby Blum and Joey Dixon-Magnus also contributed during the season.
Clark, a 1988 Sutherlin graduate, appreciates the help around him, too: Greg Good (who’s been with him since 1998), Jordan Humphreys, Loren Oberman, Josh Reber and Kyle Dage.
Clark’s description of this year’s team?
“The teamwork and sacrifice of individual awards and accomplishments in order to do what’s best for the team,” he said. “The thing that makes me feel good about this one is it was a total team effort of individual sacrifice and different kids were stepping up in each game. It was amazing to see this team grow, to what they looked like in December to now.”
Keep in mind Clark, who just finished his 19th season as head coach, didn’t have his full team together for nearly a month into the season due to the successful football season. The Oakers, guided by Ben Lane, won their first state football championship since 1964 with a 50-27 victory over Portland Christian on Dec. 1. Collins, Nix, O’Hara, Harper, VanDeHey, Snow and Bailey were starters for the football team.
“The drive and determination (from football) carried over to the basketball team,” Clark said. “(Football) set the bar high.”
It’s been a very good sports year for the Oakers. In addition to state titles in football and basketball, Oakland wrestlers David Henry (220 pounds) and Angus Swan (182) captured state championships at the 2A/1A tournament in Portland.
The Oakland girls basketball team, coached by Marita Benzel, achieved its second straight fourth-place finish at the state tournament. Oakland freshman Nathaniel Oberman advanced to the 3A/2A/1A state cross country meet last fall.
“This is one of those special years that doesn’t happen very often,” Clark said. “We’re on a high right now and hope it carries over to spring sports.”
• You can reach Sports Editor Tom Eggers at 541-957-4220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org