PENDLETON — The biggest man on the court sealed the biggest boys’ basketball win in East Linn Christian Academy history on Saturday night at the Pendleton Convention Center.
Austin Bates, the Eagles’ 6-foot-7 center known more for his impenetrable defense than his scoring prowess, scored half of his six points on one possession in the OSAA Class 2A championship game to lift his team to a 36-32 victory over the defending champions from Western Mennonite.
With the game tied at 32-32 and just north of a minute to play, Cole Horner of East Linn Christian (28-3) put up a long shot that fell short. Bates powered through the eight other bodies in the key, snatching the rebound and lifting it back up to the hoop. The basket was good — plus a free throw on the foul, which he also swished.
The victory completes a four-game sweep for the Lions (25-6) that included victories in the Tri-River Conference district tournament and two during the regular season. The teams finished first and third in the conference, but were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state.
East Linn Christian had one runner-up finish in 1992 as a Class 1A school, but Saturday marked their first moment on top of the podium. Getting a chance to take down a conference rival while bringing home the golden hardware caps a perfect year for the Eagles, East Linn Christian’s Chaz Hooley said.
“I don’t dislike (Western Mennonite) or anything, but I would much rather not have them get two in a row,” Hooley said.
The Lions held a seven point lead in the the second half and tried to sustain it by draining time. With no shot clock rule in Oregon high school basketball, Western Mennonite had possessions of 1:20 and nearly 2:00 in the third quarter alone. At one point, a Lions guard held the ball near half court for a full 30 seconds without a challenger.
Both teams were trying to play the patience game.
“Don’t just put up a stupid shot and make the best of our...” an emotionally worn Lion Bradley Branch trailed off after watching East Linn Christian receive its trophy. “It was about controlling the momentum.”
But the strategy only works with precise passes and East Linn Christian moved into some passing lanes to take the ball away and start the drive back up the scoreboard. They outscored Western Mennonite 10-4 in the fourth quarter.
Jake Bates led all scorers for East Linn Christian with 11 points and Hooley added 10 more. Horner’s nine completed the scoring for the team with only four players getting points.
Branch had a double-double night with 10 rebounds and points and Gabe Louthan also scored 10 for the Lions.