By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It’s weird to think that a year-ago that Salem Academy and Blanchet Catholic were fighting for who’s number one in the league standings and Jefferson was actually trying to seal a spot in the Top 5 of league to make it to the League playoffs.
Fast-forward a year-later, in the Lions last game of the season and the Crusaders next to last game and Senior Night, both were battle for the number two spot entering league playoffs.
Jefferson jumped out to a 18-8 lead in the second quarter, but Salem Academy roared back on a 19-9 run to tie it at 27 entering the halftime break.
The Crusaders were looking for a groove, but fouls slowed them down as much as Salem Academy’s athleticism and that dang ‘Salem’-chant that slowed the Lions down.
Jefferson, just as young as the Crusaders with two freshman guards in Leon Romo and Danny Aguilar, had their fans cheering as loudly as the Salem crowd was as one of the two freshmen found themselves in the most pressured free throws of his young career with second-place on the line.
“Just so many practice shots, we practice so many free throws, we practice them all the time,” said Romo. “I just went in and shot the free throws just like another day in practice.”
He goes 1-2 to make it a 61-58 game as Salem Academy came down the court, they didn’t want to lose on senior night as Luke Miller releases a three, but it misses as the Lions Diego Rodriguez came down with the rebound.
Eventually Romo found himself at the line again as he helps ices the 65-60 victory to help seal the second-spot in the PacWest Conference playoffs on a four-game winning streak.
And as a good amount of their conference still has to play a game Thursday, the Lions will use it to sharpen up for the league playoffs next week and especially heal up as Jayden Eriksen went down with a ankle sprain late in the game going for a rebound.
“That’s the thing about our team, we battle back all season, even if it’s close games we lose, we don’t give one up,” starts Jefferson’s Cody Braun on the feeling of the win. “It’s going to be good, especially with Jayden going down at the end of the game, getting the few extra days to heal up. I mean Friday I’m going to try to catch the Amity and Westside Christian to see a possible playoff match-up if we get there.
“I think it’s just good, a few days for us to re-coop. We’ll run a few skill drills and stuff, but we’re playing Salem Academy team again, we know what to do. They’re not going to change in a week drastically so I think we got out game pretty figured out, we just got to execute it and play like we did tonight and we should be fine.”
For the Crusaders, the pain of losing on Senior Night is there yes, but they know they got one more game in Colton to re-gain their composure entering the league playoffs next week.
There were some tears about it, but as Salem Academy’s Blake Dobson puts it, a game like this is what makes sports what it is.
“That is what is best about sports you know? It’s just two teams going up hard,” said Dobson. “Jefferson is a good team and Colton’s a good team, they got quick guards, they can shoot. So we just need to forget that this one had happened, put it behind us and move to the next one.”
As for playing at Salem Academy for basketball, Dobson explained it something special
“The fans, they showed up that was really good,” said Dobson on playing at home one last time. “The fans showed up and I just love this gym and the sport of basketball, it’s fun to play here. There’s something about this gym is just something special. The fans, the basketball, the love of basketball at this school is special.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald