Newport starts road to repeat

There is something about being an underdog that is attractive to Newport head coach Doug Sain.

It’s why his favorite movie is “Rocky” where a small-time club boxer, Rocky Balboa, goes through a series of training montages and works his way to gets his shot at the heavyweight world championship against the then-world champ Apollo Creed.

As the Cubs open Oregon West Conference play, the team is going to need to take on that underdog mentality in order to repeat the past season’s success.

“We learned that there is a difference between playing average teams and good teams,” Sain said. “You have to maintain some consistency in your performance and we struggled with that in those two games. Marshfield we just played asleep. The Seaside game, there is no excuses, they just beat us.”

A non-conference schedule that showed that the Cubs can beat the average teams also had them struggle against good to great teams, with double-digit point losses to North Bend, Seaside and Marshfield. Paired with multiple roster changes, Newport enters conference play Friday evening in a spot that Sain doesn’t mind being in — the underdogs.

With that being said, Newport isn’t ready to hand over its conference crown easily.

“Make no mistake,” Sain said. “We are the defending champs; they have to come through us. But we have to take it a game at a time. A good Sisters team is coming here and we have to take care of business. The whole goal is to get to 1-0.”

But going 1-0, and maneuvering through the conference schedule will be no easy task. The Cubs need to go through the gauntlet that has become the Oregon West Conference in order to keep the conference title in Newport. All seven conference teams, including Newport, are ranked in OSAA top-18 through the first half of the season. And four of those teams — Woodburn, Philomath, Sweet Home and Stayton — are ranked in the top-10 of the 4A Coaches Poll. At the state of league play, the conference has a combined record of 57-19 record.

To make matters a little more challenging, Carson Martinson, Tanner Stottlemyre and Jose Gonzalez decided to leave the program.

Gonzalez’s and Stottlemyre’s departures don’t come as a shock and they can be rationalized. Basketball isn’t the primary sport for either Gonzalez or Stottlemyre and neither were in the basketball program a season ago.

However, Martinson’s departure comes as a surprise. The senior was a returning starter from last season’s team, which won its first conference title in 15 years.

During the Cubs’ run that ended in a third-place finish at the state tournament, Martinson received praise for the way he worked himself from the 10th man on the JV 2 team as a  freshman to a starter his junior year while carving out a role making plays that didn’t always show up in the box score.

“Carson went out and played the right way and was rewarded with good things, and the team got rewarded,” Sain said after Newport’s 30-point win over Yamhill-Carlton, where Martinson posted a double-double. “I thought he was the difference in the game, he started the game well and then he opened things up in the third quarter.”

“I love Carson, the whole team loves Carson, he does all the things that we don’t want to do,” said former-star Kye Blaser after that same game in last January. “Every team needs a player like that, and we have a good one in Carson.”

The team’s depth — which was an integral part of last year’s success — will now be tested. Players such as juniors Ashton Sampson, Ken Lehrer, sophomore Courtland Garrett and freshman Kaden Bruns will now play a bigger role than they had a week ago.

“I’m excited to see these kids who have been working really hard to get an opportunity and getting minutes,” Sain said. “I’m happy for them because they put the work in and now they have to go out and show what they can do. I’m super excited for them and their opportunity.”

But perhaps the biggest lineup charge will be for senior Kona Baldwin, who has been thrust into the starting rotation after seeing inconsistent minutes the first half of the season.

“I can’t wait for that opportunity,” Baldwin said. “I just have to go 100 percent when I’m in the game all the time, make sure that my mind is in to be ready for anything.”

Newport still has its core of seniors Justin Plechaty, Matt Beaudry and junior Bryan Tapia in the starting lineup. But now they must shoulder a bigger load.

“We have to stay out of foul trouble,” Beaudry said. “Coach really stressed that. We can’t get into foul trouble down low; we aren’t going to have many subs backing me up. We just have to work on controlling the tempo, taking our shots and forcing shots that we want them to take.”

Friday’s matchup against Sisters might become a sink or swim moment for the Cubs in the conference opener.

“The top players have to up their game,” Sain said. “Everyone needs to up their game, coaches have to up their game and players need to up their game. We’ll be fine.”


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