Prep boys basketball: Santiam at ELCA

Senior Ben Johnson drives to the basket on Friday, Nov. 30, against Santiam.

The East Linn Christian boys basketball team has high hopes for its first season in the Central Valley Conference.

The Eagles have good size and talented players on the wings. If young players continue to develop, the Eagles hope to contend for a league title.

“We have a lot of height and a lot of athleticism,” said head coach Jonathan Whitehead. “We just have to work out some of the stuff in our offense to make sure that we are taking closer shots, easier shots.”

East Linn Christian opened its season with a 44-36 loss at Chemawa on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

The Eagles then faced off against a tough Santiam squad in its first game of the annual Silver Cross tournament in Lebanon. The Wolverines came away with a 41-30 victory.

The Eagles bounced back with a dominating 55-11 victory over Mapleton.

Against Santiam, the Eagles were paced by junior wing Trey Weller who scored 12 points. Senior Trent Weller added seven.

The Wolverines did a good job defending 6-4 senior post Ben Johnson, holding him to three points. Santiam collapsed multiple defenders around Johnson on every entry pass.

Despite the offensive struggles, Whitehead liked the effort he saw from his squad.

“We had some first-game jitters against Chemawa. We played a lot harder tonight against a good Santiam team,” Whitehead said. “We played really hard. Our defense never let up the whole game.”

Whitehead said many players struggle to maintain focus and intensity on defense when they are struggling offensively. He didn’t see that kind of let-down from his team against Santiam.

Johnson isn’t the only Eagle with good size inside. Sophomore Ethan Slayden is also 6-4 and he put up a strong effort against the Wolverines.

“Very high basketball IQ, works very hard. Very proud of him,” Whitehead said of Slayden.

In addition to leading the team in scoring, Trey Weller does much of the ball handling for the Eagles. A three-year starter, Weller began as a point guard and continues to be very helpful in initiating the team’s offense.

Looking ahead, Whitehead hopes to see his squad develop more patience on offense and do a better job of moving the ball around and not settle for quick shots.

“We’ve got the athleticism and height to definitely win most of our games, but we’ve got to be more patient and get better shots,” Whitehead said.

The coach thinks the Central Valley Conference is going to be more competitive than the Tri-River Conference. The Eagles were 8-16 last year, 3-9 in league, but they do not think that is predictive for this season.

“We’re right on the edge of getting where we need to be,” said Trey Weller. “My goal is to get a league title so we can put that up on a banner and go to state.”

The Eagles will host Nestucca on Wednesday, Dec. 5 and then travel to Riddle for the Cow Creek Classic this weekend.

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