Five Eastern Oregon boys basketball teams are still alive and in search of state titles across the bottom three classes of schools this weekend. Of those teams, three get one final chance to perform in front of home crowds before it’s time for the tournaments’ final sites.
No. 9 HORIZON CHRISTIAN (Tualatin) at No. 8 RIVERSIDE
Saturday, 7 p.m.
A late addition to the Riverside basketball schedule is still paying dividends for the Pirates heading into their first-round playoff game against Horizon Christian this Saturday. With the Eastern Oregon League season wrapped up — a 10-0 sweep for Riverside — coach Clair Costello realized his team’s state ranking wasn’t nearly as high as one could expect from a 22-1 team.
“We gained RPI points even with the loss, which kept us in the eighth spot,” Costello explained. The top eight squads get to host in the first round of the playoffs, and without the Sisters game, Riverside would be the team on the road this weekend.
The Pirates have some recent history with the Hawks — the second-place squad out of the West Valley League. Horizon Christian ended the Pirates season in the first round of the playoffs last year. One year to the day removed from that downfall, Riverside is in a much better position to advance to the state tournament’s final site in Bend. This year’s team has some size that was lacking in 2011, highlighted by 6-foot-5 forward Marco Carranza, the EOL’s Player of the Year. The Hawks from Tualatin are loaded with height to match and have only two players on their roster under 6 feet tall.
The Pirates have won with defense this season, holding opponents to a Class 3A-low 35.4 points per game, a full three points below the next school. Riverside boasts a near 30-point scoring differential, on display in the many blowouts on their resume this year. Other than the Pirates’ two losses — both out of conference against teams with a 35-11 combined record — only one squad has finished within single digits of Riverside.
The skinny — Riverside is a largely untested team that will also be playing without one of its best players, senior transfer Sean Shimmer, who has missed most of the second half of the season with an injury. That could hurt the Pirates’ chances of a deep playoff run, but Riverside is more than capable of pulling out a win this weekend, especially at home.
No. 13 OAKLAND at No. 5 WESTON-McEWEN
Saturday, 4 p.m.
By the time the Weston-McEwen boys take the court against Oakland on Saturday, two weeks will have passed since the regular season ended. In that time, the TigerScots played just one game, winning the Blue Mountain Conference District Tournament. That’s a lot of down time for a squad and not something any hot team wants to face late in the season.
“Actually, we are worried about that a little bit, which is why it will be even more important for us to get off to a quick start,” Weston-McEwen coach Brian Pickard said.
Weston-McEwen rides an 11-game winning streak into the game that will feature some interesting matchups, most notably TigerScot star-shooter Dallas Reich on the Oakers dangerous wing Nick Zimmerman. Each boy is at the center of his team’s offense and the two will likely become well acquainted while guarding each other. The player from this pairing who can perform the best could decide the game.
The TigerScots hold the height advantage over Oakland, like they have against most teams this season, but the Oakers know how to handle that. Oakland — the second-place team from the Mountain View Conference — has just one player that can measure up the the TigerScots’ Reich, Ron Terjeson or Riley Sederberg, all 6-foot-3 or taller.
“We have three posts in our league that are 6-foot-6 or better, so we’re used to giving up some size,” Oakland coach Jeff Clark said. “We try and use pressure to combat that.”
Oakland is looking to get back to the state tournament’s final site in Pendleton for the first time since 2009, the last in a streak of 12 straight years there.
Oakland has relied on defense to stay in games while Weston-McEwen’s formula has involved both scoring and strong D. The TigerScots ranked first in the BMC in points allowed at 48.5 per game while also dropping 59 points per contest. That last number is well below what other league schools in the playoffs like Pilot Rock and Stanfield score, but comfortably exceeds Oakland’s average. The Oakers are a top-four team in defense though, allowing 41 points per game.
The skinny — The TigerScots come into this one favored and could show why if Blue Mountain Confernece Player of the Year Dallas Reich gets loose early. The Oakers’ hopes lie in heavy pressure defensively that could force some uncharacteristic mistakes, but a disciplined Weston-McEwen team that comprises four seniors will make that a difficult task.
No. 9 OAKRIDGE at No. 8 STANFIELD
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
When Stanfield lost to Weston-McEwen in the boys’ final of the Blue Mountain Conference District Tournament last week, the defeat came with more sting than any other game this season. It was only the fourth time the Tigers had played for the title in the last 35 years, coach Daniel Sharp said. That game will linger in the Tigers’ collective mind during their matchup with Oakridge this Saturday, not as regret, but as motivation.
“It was probably one of the harder games for them to get over, I would think,” Sharp said. “From what I've seen, they're ready to go.”
The Tigers may have lost to the TigerScots, but by beating them twice before in the season along with numerous other playoff-caliber teams, Stanfield bought itself a first-round home game with a top-eight RPI ranking. That’s something that can’t be overlooked, Sharp said.
Stanfield’s oft-scoring offense will look a little different in the state playoffs (i.e. shorter) with 6-foot-1 post Koty Kamm out with an injury. The senior’s basketball career as a Tiger ended with torn ligaments in his ankle during the Weston-McEwen game last week, and his absence will make an undersized team seem even smaller. Perhaps luckily for Stanfield, Oakridge’s boys don’t stretch the measuring tape much either, especially outside of 6-foot-2 Taylor Edmunds, a senior post player.
The key for Stanfield to make up for Kamm’s absence is speed, something they’ve had to develop all season while playing larger teams. Employing that quickness and ball pressure have caused problems for some opponents and Sharp said the boys will have to turn it up even more to hang around this postseason.
If the Tigers can get their offense clicking, they can outrun Oakridge, which tends to only score in the low 50s per game. That task is easier planned than put into action, though, as the Warriors’ defense allows a light 43.8 points per game.
The skinny — Stanfield will need to execute from the outside to have a chance at shooting past Oakridge in this matchup of a No. 8 and No. 9 team. If Stanfield’s deep threats of Devin Bailey and Eddy Ramos can hit their targets often, this game could swing quickly in the Tigers’ favor. If not, the only advantage that Stanfield can rely on will be the home-court atmosphere.
No. 11 PILOT ROCK at No. 6 VERNONIA
Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Rockets emerged from a shaky stretch of games to nab the third playoff spot out of the Blue Mountain Conference, but some of the damage couldn’t be undone. Three late losses on the schedule mean the Rockets will be leaving the Rock for Vernonia this Saturday for their first-round playoff match. Pilot Rock draws an interesting match with the Northwest League champs — who won the title in impressive fashion by pounding second-place finisher Faith Bible by 31 points in the championship game. Faith Bible played without a pair of starters in that game, though.
The playoff game will feature a pair of powerful offenses, as each team exceeded 60 points per game this season with room to spare. Both Vernonia and Pilot Rock led their respective leagues in scoring and the difference in this one may come down to which defense can put up a better fight.
Vernonia is vulnerable inside despite a tall lineup that includes 6-foot-6 post Austin Edgar. Against Faith Bible and Gaston in their district tournament, the defense gave up some easy shots in the paint but the opposing teams just missed the basket.
The Loggers are the hot team having won seven straight games, largely because of ball control, Vernonia coach David Weller said. The team averaged around 20 turnovers per game through the first half of the year, but has cut that number in half.
“That’s 10 extra possessions, and if all goes as planned, can be 20 more points,” Weller said.
Vernonia is 21-4 on the year but could easily be 24-1. The Loggers’ four losses are by a combined 11 points with three games ending on buzzer-beating shots from their opponents. This year’s team is one of the strongest the school has had in decades. The Loggers have made one trip to Pendleton for the tournament’s final days — that coming in 1996 — dating back to the 1970s.
The skinny — If Pilot Rock can control 6-foot-2 guard Pavel Jiranek, the distributor of the Loggers’ offense, the Rockets could come away with the upset. Jiranek is a big, athletic ball handler, who reminds Pilot Rock coach Doug Baxter of Weston-McEwen’s all-star Dallas Reich. “Except not as good,” Baxter added.
No. 10 IONE at No. 1 COUNTRY CHRISTIAN
Saturday, 6 p.m.
The Ione boys face the top team in Class 1A basketball this Saturday on the road against Country Christian, a powerhouse that hasn’t lost since before the New Year, a string of 17 straight games. It’s an intimidating matchup for sure, coach Dennis Stefani said, but his boys aren’t the type for feeling overwhelmed.
The teams know each other well — or at least as well as any schools separated by 200 miles can. They met once already this season and participate in the same basketball camps in the summer, playing a half dozen or more times there. Based on all that, Stefani said he likes his chances.
“It’s a win that’s attainable at least,” the coach said, especially with how the Cardinals are playing now.
Ione gritted its teeth for an overtime win against Echo to snatch the third playoff spot out of the Big Sky Conference before an opening-round playoff victory over Damascus Christian on the road Wednesday. That was crucial to show the Cardinals that they can win even away from Ione, where they went 8-1 this season.
Country Christian — the top team out of the Casco League — is one of the best in the state at putting the ball in the hoop at 65 points per game. Ione is close behind at 63 ppg, but can struggle stopping offenses. Ione’s 51 points allowed per game is nine more than its opponent for Saturday.
The skinny — Ione will need big games from stars like Adam Collin and Steven Holland, who both had double-doubles in the first-round win over Damascus, if the Cardinals have any hope of completing the upset and traveling to Baker City for the Class 1A tournament’s final site.