It’s been a long time since a boys basketball team from West Salem High School was in the conversation for a league championship at this late a point in a season.
But Friday’s 74-62 win gave the Titans more than just first place in the Greater Valley Conference.
It gave them the knowledge that they can beat every team in the league because they now have.
A 8-2 record in the GVC, a 15-3 overall record, the No. 3 position in the OSAA’s power rankings, which determines seeding for the state postseason, and a No. 4 spot in the 6A coaches poll are indisputable proof that the Titans are among the state’s elite teams.
It also signals that West Salem is back.
“The biggest thing for me has been if we want to be a conference championship team, we got act like it, we got to talk about it, we got to know that that’s on the radar,” first-year head coach Travis Myers said. “We’re not just trying to sneak into the playoffs. We’re not just trying to be a top three team. We want to be champions. You got to act like champions, you got to practice like champions.
“Our players are a pretty confident bunch. They understand that we’re good enough to win. Our job as coaches is to prepare them so that they can do that.”
Though West Salem beat GVC powers Sprague (7-2), McNary (7-3) and South Salem (5-4) on its first trip through the season, the Titans lost to McKay and McMinnville, teams with a combined record of 7-12.
The Titans avenged the first of those losses with Tuesday’s 110-77 win against McKay and Friday’s win against McMinnville – the Titans’ fourth consecutive – is a sign the team is still learning its identity.
“I think it was a wake-up call for us,” senior Jared Oliver said. “Like before in the season we would go a four-game stretch and then we’d kind of slack off and fall down again.
“But so far we’re going back up and we’re practicing hard every day and one of our goals this season is to beat every single team in the league, and so that’s one of our motivations today so we can get that goal.”
Now that West Salem is on a winning streak, it has found the consistency it needs to be successful.
The Titans discovered long ago that they’re not a team of runs.
Sure, they might put together a 7-0 run in a game or give up six straight points, but they’re not going on 17-0 runs or going to give up 16 straight points.
That kind of consistency is what it will take when they play in more meaningful games, such as in the OSAA Class 6A state playoffs.
“We seem to kind of slowly kind of chip away and get a couple more and get a couple more,” Myers said. “When we do that, it’s hard for teams to kind of get back on us because we’re always going to get a bucket here or there.
“The biggest thing for us is always can we get enough stops? Can we get enough stops to get a run?”
Myers’ influence has been felt in a number of ways.
Better known in Salem for his time as a golf coach, Myers has provided a calming influence and installed a controlled up-tempo offense and zone defense that depends on its lanky players to cover on the perimeter and collapse on drives.
But the Titans also had an influx of talent this season.
When they come in the form of upperclassmen who chose not to play last year like junior Zach Robertson, who scored 12 points Friday after not playing last season, it was bound to make an impact.
“I took that, needed time to grow mentally and now I’m back trying to battle with the team and do what they need me to do,” Robertson said.
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West Salem’s last league championship came in the 2012-13 season.
Whereas a year ago the team was fighting for a state playoff spot – they got it and reached the second round of the state playoffs despite finishing 13-13 overall – the Titans have their postseason destiny in their control now.
Winning the league championship is something along that route that still needs to be accomplished.
“It’s a pretty good feeling, especially since West hasn’t done it in four or five years,” said junior Kyle Greeley, who scored 30 points. “To be able to do that, people are kind of looking at us like, wow, West is kind of back towards the top.
“It is a good feeling when people are noticing that now. So we know we got to win out. It’s a goal of ours to win the conference. The only way to do that is win out the rest of the conference.”
West Salem 74, McMinnville 62
McMinnville: Wyatt Smith 18, Baune 15, Coste 10, Rich 7, Spence 7, Harris, Wennerstrom, Agcaoili-Ostrom, Newell, Ramos. Totals 19 6-8 62.
West Salem: Kyle Greeley 30, Robertson 12, Bailey 9, Oliver 8 , Lind 6, Thompson 6, Splonski 4, Bulgin. Totals 24 20-32 74.
MCM 13 9 21 20-62
WS 21 15 18 21-74.
3-point goals: McMinnville 11 (Smith 6, Baune 2, Rich, Spence, Coste); West Salem 7 (Greeley 2, Bailey 2, Thompson 2, Robertson).
Contact Bill Poehler at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com and follow him on Twitter @bpoehler