By JOHN GUNTHER/THE WORLD
COOS BAY — Junction City and Cascade entered the 4A boys basketball playoffs as the top two teams in the power rankings. On Saturday, they will meet for the state title.
Top-ranked Junction City beat Seaside 43-35 and No. 2 Cascade topped Banks 57-46 in Friday’s semifinals to earn berths in the final of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 4A tournament at Marshfield High School.
For the Tigers, Friday’s win was the latest in a series of big victories at the Pirate Palace.
Already this season, Junction City has knocked off 3A champion Cascade Christian (in a preseason tournament), the top-ranked team in the 4A coaches poll in Marshfield (during the Sky-Em League season) and Seaside in the semifinals.
One more win Saturday against Cascade and the Tigers will be state champions for the first time since 1994.
Veteran coach Craig Rothenberger said there’s nothing special to his team about the gymnasium.
“I think it’s a lot more about the kids than the gym,” Rothenberger said, adding Friday’s win was an example of what has made his team strong all year.
“It was a great team effort, but that’s what we are, a basketball team,” he said.
Junction City won with its typical formula — offensive patience and tough defense.
Kaleb Burnett had 16 points and seven rebounds to lead the Tigers and Colby Evans added 10 points and seven boards.
The game plan, Burnett said, was simple: “Move the ball, get open shots and play defense,” he said, adding the latter was very important. “They definitely have good shooters.”
The Tigers limited the Seagulls to just 30-percent shooting for the game and only allowed five offensive rebounds all game.
Ever Sibony, who keyed Seaside’s comeback from a 20-point deficit against Philomath in the quarterfinals a day earlier, had six points but went just 1-for-14 from the field against Chris Ohman, Junction City’s top defender.
“Chris Ohman just did a great job,” Rothenberger said.
“Defensively, I was so proud (of the whole team). I thought we executed offensively pretty well. We got good shots.”
The Tigers led 24-17 at the break and held off a Seaside run in the second half before securing the win at the foul line late.
Seaside had momentum late in the third quarter when it trimmed the lead to one point, but the Tigers never relinquished the lead.
“We just had to slow it down,” Burnett said. “We were shooting the ball too fast.”
Evans scored on an assist by Court Knabe just before the third quarter ended and Burnett had the opening basket of the fourth to give Junction City a little breathing room.
The Tigers shot 8-for-12 from the line to secure the win.
Junction City was able to handle the athletic Seagulls, which was a concern for Rothenberger since he only used six players in the semifinals.
“We’re not playing many kids, so I was a little worried about the fatigue factor,” he said. “But they’re kids.
“I was real pleased with the defense.”
Cash Corder had 15 points for Seaside, but the Seagulls went just 3-for-13 from long range against Junction City’s defense.
Fresh off the win, the Tigers turned their focus to the championship game.
“We’ve spent a long time talking about (playing for a state title),” Burnett said. “Playing together, we’ve been talking about it since the fourth grade.”
Now that they are in the championship game for the first time since 2004 (a loss to Creswell), they know just what to do.
“We’re just going to have to do what we usually do — play defense, don’t give up offensive boards and take good shots,” Burnett said.
Junction City will be taking on a Cascade team that has been on a mission all season after losing the 4A showcase final to Marshfield last June.
“Losing last year was horrible,” said Cascade senior Kellen Sande. “We have a mission to win (this year).”
Cascade’s 14th straight win put the Cougars on the cusp of that goal.
“I’m excited to get back to the ‘chap’ just like last year,” Sande said of the title game after scoring 22 points and hitting four three-pointers for Cascade.
The Cougars have a pair of great inside players, Ty Best and Dominic Ball, but on Friday it was Sande who hit a bunch of big shots to help fend off the Braves.
“We take what they’re giving us,” Sande said. “If they are crashing down on our bigs inside, they are smart enough to kick it out to us to hit big shots.”
Sande hit a three-pointer as part of a game-opening 9-2 run and Cascade led the entire way.
“They came out and wanted it right off the bat,” said Cascade coach Calvin Molan. “They came with energy.”
Banks chipped away at the lead a number of times during the game, but Cascade always came up with big shots to get back in front.
That included Best scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds inside and the Cougars also getting a number of transition hoops.
“We were able to create offensive opportunities from our defense,” Molan said, adding that the Cougars had to find ways for offense against the tough zone defense of the Braves.
“Banks does the best job we’ve seen all year of a 2-3 zone,” Molan said. “We had to create good shots.”
Having Sande go 4-for-7 from behind the arc helped.
“Kellen has been our leader all year offensively and defensively,” Molan said. “All of our leaders did a great job tonight.”
Cooper Gobel had 19 points and Ben Mayo had 12 for Banks, combining for seven three-pointers.
The Braves will face league rival Seaside in the third-place game Saturday afternoon.
Cascade, meanwhile, will be going against Junction City, trying to end a longer title drought than the Tigers — the Cougars’ only crown came in 1974.
“I’m just proud of the boys and the way they’ve been playing,” Molan said. “We’ve been talking all year about getting to this point.
“We have some unfinished business.”
But the Cougars have been focused on not getting ahead of themselves.
“We’ve been talking about how the next game is the biggest,” Molan said.
Now they are going to the biggest game.