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High Schools: Aldridge hopes 600 won't take long

No one can say Prairie girls basketball coach Al Aldridge scheduled a bunch of cupcakes this year on his way to another milestone.
/ Source: The Vancouver Columbian

Vancouver, Wash. No one can say Prairie girls basketball coach Al Aldridge scheduled a bunch of cupcakes this year on his way to another milestone.

Aldridge recorded win No. 599 last week when the Falcons advanced to the finals of the Energy Classic in Wyoming.

But the Falcons lost in the title game, to a little team from Oregon City, historically the best program the Northwest has ever produced.

Aldridge's next attempt at 600 comes with a home game Friday against Southridge of Beaverton.

Yes, that Southridge, the program that has turned into the new Oregon City. Southridge has won the past three state championships in Oregon and already owns a win over Prairie earlier this season in a talent-filled tournament.

If things don't go well for Prairie on Friday, Aldridge's next chance at 600 will come next week against Jesuit. All Jesuit did last year was finish second to Southridge in the Oregon state finals.

Prairie follows that with a non-league match-up at Sunset in Beaverton, then a key road game against Skyview, the only Class 4A Greater St. Helens League team that has come close to beating Prairie in the past eight seasons.

Now, not too many in the county will feel sorry for Aldridge or the Falcons if it took them a while for that next win to materialize. After all, Prairie has been beating up on the region for a long time now.

Long enough, in fact, that Aldridge is closing in on that big number. Prairie's program has a total of 609 wins, but Aldridge did not coach one year, a 10-win season in 1990. All the others are on his record, which stands at 599-119 heading into 2008.

Aldridge got win No. 500 while the Falcons were in a tournament in Delaware to ring in the new year in 2004. He nearly got 600 in Wyoming.

That would have been extra special, considering the opponent. Prairie has won five state titles in Washington; Oregon City, under former coach Brad Smith, won 10 Oregon state titles and three mythical national championships.

"Brad was my mentor," Aldridge said. "I tried to emulate his program as much as possible. I have to credit him with lots of my coaching experience."

Kurt Guelsdorf, the new coach at Oregon City, is close friends with Aldridge. They work together in summer ball.

Because of the relationships between the coaches, the two teams, just 31 miles apart, never played each other until the brackets collided in that tournament in Wyoming.

It was not exactly a classic.

Prairie rallied from a 14-point deficit to take the lead in the third quarter. But the Pioneers responded for a 38-33 victory. The teams were tied at 33 for about three minutes of the fourth quarter.

"We know each other's plays," Aldridge said. "I'm calling out stuff, and he's calling out his counters. That's why it was so low scoring."

Certainly not an everyday experience for the Falcons - a loss and low scoring.

After all, their coach is all about wins and big numbers.