By SCOTT SEPICH/for OSAAtoday
PENDLETON -- A broken rim delayed the start of Friday's semifinal between No. 3 Salem Academy and No. 2 Kennedy by 45 minutes at the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 2A boys basketball tournament at Pendleton Convention Center.
But the Tri-River Conference rivals made it worth the wait.
The game went into overtime before Salem Academy emerged with a 38-35 win. Senior Landen Mitchell hit a 3-pointer with 41 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, then made another high-arching 3 in the extra period to give the Crusaders the lead for good as they advanced to the championship game for the second consecutive season.
“Last night was a shaky shooting game, but my coaches told me to keep shooting,” said Mitchell, who scored 13 points. “I know my teammates believe in me, so I just had to remain confident.”
It was a tight game from the start, as neither team led by more than six points. Salem Academy (21-6) took its largest lead of the game at 23-19 midway through the third quarter, but the Trojans scored seven straight to lead 26-23 through three.
Mitchell and Kennedy’s Luke Beyer traded 3s to preserve the three-point advantage for the Trojans, but Mitchell was able to make one more fall to tie things up. Charlie Beyer had a look at the regulation buzzer to win the game for Kennedy (23-6) but it bounded off the rim.
Charlie Beyer’s layup put Kennedy ahead for the final time with two minutes left in overtime, then Mitchell hit a 3 on the next possession.
With less than 12 seconds left, it appeared that Kennedy had fouled Salem Academy’s Jackson Oglesby but there was no whistle and the Crusaders broke the press for an easy Jesse Bauldree layup. The Trojans then threw the ball away on the ensuing inbound play to seal the Salem Academy victory.
Oglesby led the Crusaders with 16 points and seven rebounds. Ethan Kleinschmidt and Luke Beyer had 11 each for Kennedy, while Brett Boen grabbed 11 rebounds.
“Jackson gets so much attention since he’s a big guy, so people tend to collapse on him when he gets going in the paint so us outside guys have to step up and start hitting some shots,” said Mitchell.
Salem Academy captured the season series after the teams split their two games in the regular season. Now the Crusaders get a chance at revenge against Western Christian, which won last year’s title game 54-53 in double-overtime. The Pioneers also beat Salem Academy twice this regular season.
“We’ve had this date written up on our whiteboard for a very long time now,” Mitchell said. “And we’re super excited to get a chance at redemption. They’re a very intense team and we have to match that.”
No. 5 Western Christian 43, No. 9 Heppner 38: Defending champion Western Christian absorbed a big run from Heppner but fought back to earn its fifth consecutive appearance in an official state championship game.
Western Christian (22-7) led 23-11 midway through the second quarter, but the underdog Mustangs, who knocked off No. 1 Mannahouse Academy in the quarterfinals, went on a 17-2 run to take a 28-25 lead in the third quarter. The Pioneers stayed calm, however, amid the roars of the large contingent of Heppner fans, then regained the lead by the end of the quarter and never let it get away.
Western Christian coach Gary Hull said the continuity of his players being together for many years breeds the trust that they can respond in key moments.
“All of those early years pay off because they play together for a long time instead of just one season,” he said. “I’m thankful for that because it’s where our composure comes from.”
Gavin Hall scored 14 points to lead the Pioneers, including two 3-pointers in a 12-1 run that turned a 33-28 deficit into a 40-34 lead. Logan Hill scored nine points and dished five assists, while Lucas Zook scored eight points.
Western Christian graduated eight seniors from last year’s title team and has no seniors and just one junior on the roster this season. Hull thought this might be a season for getting his team fundamentally sound for making a title run in the future.
“The Tri-River Conference is loaded with seven to eight really good teams, so the kids grew from that,” Hull explained.
Heppner (21-6) got 12 points and 11 rebounds from Tucker Ashbeck. Trevor Nichols connected on three consecutive 3-pointers in the big third-quarter run and finished with nine points, as did David Cribbs. The Mustangs couldn’t finish the job, though, scoring five points in the fourth quarter after posting 17 in the third.
Hull said he has a lot of respect for Heppner and their coach, Jeremy Rosenbalm.
“Jeremy does a great job,” Hull said. “His kids played their tails off and they were playing with freedom. If it was fun to see them hit the shots they did and it was a great run. I was very pleased that we didn’t get rattled.”