By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– On the South side of town, the South Salem boys were beginning their trek back against West Salem after being down as many as 18 points before Jalen Nielsen-Skinner connected on two crucial free-throws to help the Saxon Men outlast the Titans 74-73 as West nailed a half-court three at the buzzer.
Over the Marion Bridge on the West side of the bridge there were hopes that, as both games were going on, that both Saxons and/or Titan teams will end the night victorious over the other as the Lady Saxons opened leads of 26-20 and 37-30 on the Lady Titans.
After each shot it seemed like by South Salem, their bench rose to their feet in celebration of their teammates as it fueled the Saxons to those big leads Tuesday night on the road.
“It’s a huge difference, we’ve been pushing for that bench attitude the whole season I feel like and that shows how much everyone contributes to the team,” said Morgan Winder about the bench support.
As we entered the final few minutes of the game with South Salem leading 37-30, they had opportunities for that dagger to put the game to bed with three-, four-minutes remaining in the contest with the shots missing their marks by West; but like the Lady Titans, the Lady Saxons too couldn’t connect with the clock going past the 2:30 remaining number in the fourth quarter.
The crowd held it’s breath it seemed, only letting it out whenever their particular team missed as if agreeing with their team in disbelief or in sigh of relief that it didn’t go in.
With 2:15 left, the first shot was made in what seemed like ages as Antoina Gonzales drains a three to cut the lead to 37-33 as the West crowd and bench erupted like the Saxons did throughout much of the game.
“We worked really hard in practice coming up to this game because we knew South is really good opponent and we hadn’t beat them in a really long time,” said Gonzales as Olvia Orozco cut the deficit to two with 1:05 left and West getting the ball back following Maddie Bertsch’s rebound. “I was shaking the whole time, but we worked hard.”16
As many games in the Greater Valley Conference were like, McNary-Forest Grove girls (Celtics won 30-29), McMinnville-McKay boys (Grizzlies won 77-76), West Albany boys sinking a last second free throw to beat North Salem 61-60; this game became a nail-bitter as the Titans crossed half-court.
Gonzales, who plays forward, drifts out to the top of the key beyond the three-point line when she received the ball and shot.
With 39 seconds left in the game the junior saw her shot fall through the bottom of the net as the West Salem gym, with the Titan fans, erupted with excitement as the scoreboard read: Titans 38, Saxons 37.
“Just trying so hard to focus to hit that and then just trying to keep us up,” smiled Gonzales on the go-ahead shot and the crowd going crazy like a game at the Chiles Center.
South drove down trying to drain the go-ahead shot on the next offensive possesion, no luck. Bertsch missed a free throw that could have put West up two, perhaps three that gave the Lady Saxons another crack at the lead and the possible win with time against them with just seconds to spear when they came out of the timeout called by Head Coach Adrian Lewis.
No luck as West Salem regains possession and ran out the remaining second of the game to seal the 38-37 lead.
South Salem knew that they had this game as they load up the bus to go back home, but know too they’ll be back for their rivalry game versus Sprague Friday night at Sprague.
“We really focused on our defense in this game and I’m really proud on what we put out there also our bench attitude. Our attitude was up the whole game, the outcome wasn’t what we worked for,” said Winder who had four points in the defeat.
“We put less focus on our offense this time so I think we need we need a balance of offense and defense in the Sprague game coming up and just be on that night. We’ll be prepared.”
Gretchen Olson led the Saxons with 14 points and Hailey James added another nine points.
Gonzales led the team with 12 points and Lexi Tejeda added another 10 in the win as the Lady Titans look to carry this momentum from this win to their road game versus Summit Friday.
“Just hoping to keep our winning streak up and staying positive I think, said Gonzales as West Salem has won five of their last seven games after starting the season 3-8.
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Photos By Jeremy McDonald