Cooper Getsfrid says when the Linn-Benton Community College men’s basketball team walks on the court, it doesn’t usually strike fear in the opponent.
“When you look at us, like when we get on the court, you don’t think we’re that great,” the West Albany High grad and Roadrunners sophomore forward said Tuesday afternoon before heading out to practice.
“We don’t look very good. We walk in the gym and (opponents think) ‘oh this is going to be an easy win.’”
The Roadrunners have put together one of, if not the best, seasons in school history. And they are just two wins from taking home the NWAC tournament title.
Linn-Benton shocked many by winning two games in the tournament last weekend and advancing to the semifinals. The Roadrunners will take on Peninsula at 2 p.m. Saturday at Everett Community College.
The winner of that game will face either Portland or North Idaho in Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. title game.
No matter what happens this weekend, it’s quite the accomplishment for the Roadrunners, who hadn’t been to the tournament since 2011 and were a game back of making it last year.
“After last year we were super hungry,” Getsfrid said. “We really needed to make the playoffs and that was the ultimate goal and we did that. Now that we're in the Final Four it's past our expectations. Hopefully we can get the championship.”
The Roadrunners are 22-9 entering the semis and the 22 wins are the most since the 1972-73 season.
"We didn’t want to just settle with getting 20 wins," said freshman Taylor Jensen. "We weren’t happy getting second, we would have liked to get first in the South, but maybe we’ll get another chance at Portland in the championship."
Jensen, a Forest Grove High grad, admitted he didn’t know what to expect when he joined the program.
“But as the season progressed we had a good start so I was like, let’s try to win this whole thing and here we are,” he said. “We’ve got a chance this last weekend.”
Under second-year coach Everett Hartman, who has also served as an assistant at LB as well as being a longtime high school and college coach in the area, the Roadrunners have bought into a system that relies on depth and unselfish play.
Hartman likes to get as many of his players as possible in each game, allowing them to be fresher than most other teams as the game progresses.
That has been a key in the NWAC tournament as the Roadrunners were able to rally in the second half and pull away late in both wins.
“I don’t think we get fatigued,” said freshman guard Trent Van Cleave, who played at McNary. “We play a lot of guys, we don’t play any guys 40 minutes. Second half we’re dialed in defensively, getting stops, getting boards more than other teams.”
There is a different level of belief when the game reaches the nine-minute mark and the Roadrunners are in a close game.
“Absolutely,” Getsfrid said. “At nine minutes, when we see them at the free-throw line doing this (hands on knees and bent at the waist), we definitely have an advantage.”
LB also does not rely on one or two players to handle the scoring load, instead relying on everyone to contribute.
“A big part of that is all of us are unselfish,” Jensen said. “A lot of teams you see someone is averaging 20, you got two guys averaging 20 and everybody else is five, four, three, four whatever.
“That’s been the biggest part. We share the ball. We don’t care who scores we just want to get the win.”
The players say it’s been easy to buy into that system, and that they have become a close-knit group.
“It’s a lot of cool guys on this team,” Jensen said. “We’re all brothers, really. A lot of teams say that you want that to be a brotherhood, you want to be a family. But you can really feel it with this team which is nice.”
Van Cleave said it’s been easier to accomplish that bond because so many of the players either played together or against each other in high school.
Van Cleave is one of three players from McNary while Jensen and Bailey Evers played at Forest Grove and Getsfrid at West Albany, three Greater Valley Conference schools.
“This group of guys, a lot of us have known each other for a while, went to school together, played against each other for a while in the GVC and going to camps,” Van Cleave said. “This whole season has been unbelievable.
“When you have guys like Matt Ismay come off the bench, he plays six minutes a game. He’s a three-time defensive player of the year in high school and it goes to show you we’re that deep. We’re a really good squad together and we mesh really well.”
Two wins away from a title, the Roadrunners must first get past a Peninsula team that handed them a 77-72 loss on Dec. 30 at the Clackamas Holiday Invitational.
“We felt like we didn’t play very well when we played them in the tournament the third day of the tournament,” Jensen said. “We shot a terrible percentage and I think we’ve got a good shot at winning the thing so we want to go do that.”
If that happens, it will be a perfect ending for Getsfrid.
“Extremely special,” he said. “Especially for me, coach Zim (Tod Zimmerman), Hartman, I grew up being coached by them at West Albany. It would be great way to finish here at Linn-Benton.”