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R.A. Long boys reach 2A state basketball tournament for third straight year with 51-36 defeat of Ridgefield

Lumberjacks put on defensive ‘clinic’ and get balanced scoring led by Landon Irwin, Lonnie Brown Jr.

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 15, 2024, 10:21pm

WOODLAND — While putting together back-to-back runs to the Class 2A boys basketball state tournament over the last two seasons, the R.A. Long boys basketball team saw the makings of an annual tradition.

Securing a third straight state berth was made harder by finishing fourth in the 2A Greater St. Helens League and needing to win two loser-out games in the District 4 tournament. Yet when it mattered most, the Lumberjacks elevated their play to keep the streak intact.

After defeating Black Hills two nights prior to set up Thursday’s winner-to-state game against Ridgefield, R.A. Long prevailed 51-36 at Woodland High School to reach next week’s 2A state opening round while the Spudders ended the season with a 16-8 record.

Sophomore Landon Irwin led R.A. Long with 18 points, senior Lonnie Brown Jr. poured in 13 points and the Lumberjacks’ defense was dominant in stretches, holding Ridgefield under 10 points in three of four quarters.

“Me and Aeybel (Milian), we’ve been (the only) seniors throughout the whole program, so we didn’t wan our last game be against Black Hills. We didn’t want to go out,” Brown said. “Our team has been playing for us too. … We just wanted to keep going forward. We’ve all been putting in more work, taking it more serious and not wanting to lose. (We’re) playing our best basketball right now.”

This season may have been perceived as a transition time for the program after graduating one of the state’s top players, Cavin Holden, who led the Lumberjacks to two straight district championships and state berths, while needing to bring a much younger team up to speed.

“Everybody was doubting us, (thinking) that we weren’t going to do much this year,” Brown said, “but we put in so much work in the offseason. Our coach always having us go in there, putting all those hours into basketball and making us get better.”

The seniors, Brown and Milian, upheld a standard they saw firsthand as members of the previous state tournament teams. And, the experience is invaluable to a group of underclassmen who make up nearly half of R.A. Long’s roster.

“You talk about a tradition,” R.A. Long coach Jeray Key began, “… and you want those older guys to hold it up, and you think, oh man, if we don’t make it, do we keep up the tradition? Now those guys get us there for a third year in a row. Those younger guys that are sophomores — Rhet (Young), (Jeffrey) Rooklidge, Landon (Irwin), Brenner (Coates), who’s a freshman — those guys are like, ‘OK, this is where we’re supposed to be. This what we’re supposed to do every year.’ Then the next offseason, they’re going, ‘hey, we gotta work even harder because we want to go farther.'”

What made the biggest difference for the Lumberjacks (16-7) on Thursday was their defense. They flipped the game in the second quarter by holding Ridgefield to one field goal in the final seven minutes of the half, while getting 3-pointers from Jeffrey Rooklidge and Brown to help build a 30-20 halftime lead.

Similarly, Ridgefield started the third quarter with baskets from Jack Hughes (15 points) and Cole Chester (10 points) in the opening minutes to get within eight points, before the Lumberjacks countered with 3-pointers from Brown and Irwin to go back up double digits.

Few baskets came easy for the Spudders. In the final seconds of the third, the Spudders appeared to have a layup after grabbing a steal in the backcourt. Then, R.A. Long’s TraMayne Jenkins came flying in for a chase-down block. Key described the Lumberjacks’ defensive performance as a clinic.

“We’re just a defensive-minded team,” he said. “That’s what we lay our hat on no matter what.”

Ridgefield won both regular-season meetings against R.A. Long and twice held the Lumberjacks under 40 points, but their offense came to life Thursday. After Ridgefield got within nine points with seven minutes left in the fourth, the Lumberjacks put the game out of reach with baskets from Brown, Payton Thill and Irwin over the next three-and-a-half minutes.

“We knew we were the better team,” Brown said. “The first two teams we just didn’t have good offense, we weren’t playing very well. So we knew if we did the little things right — box out, hold them to one shot — we’d win the game, and that’s what we did.”

Bigger challenges loom in next week’s 2A state tournament for the Lumberjacks, but after surviving a grueling week, they’ll lean on the same things to carry them forward.

9 Photos
Ridgefield’s Cole Chester (4) looks to fire a pass to a teammate during a Class 2A District 4 winner-to-state boys basketball game against R.A. Long on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Woodland High School.
2A District Boys Basketball: Ridgefield vs. R.A. Long Photo Gallery

“We want to go far in state,” Brown said, “so we gotta put in the extra work, just show up ready to play and not want to go home.”

R.A. LONG 51, RIDGEFIELD 36

RIDGEFIELD — Colten Castro 3, Colton Warren 3, Cole Chester 10, Jamison McCann 3, Jack Hughes 15, Kemp Fisher 0, Drew Krsul 2, Mason Curran 0. Totals 14 (6) 2-6 36.

R.A. LONG — Lonnie Brown 13, Payton Thill 4, Aeybel Milian 1, Jeffrey Rooklidge 7, TraMayne Jenkins 4, Landon Irwin 18, Rhet Young 4. Totals 19 (7) 6-15 51.

Ridgefield 11 9 8 8—36

R.A. Long 14 16 11 10—51

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