By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It was something to behold when the first half ended and South Salem led West Salem 40-15 entering the locker rooms.
The Saxons were having their way on both sides of the ball. Jaden Nielsen-Skinner and Treyden Harris offensively while Ryan Brown and Eric Lungu kept the Titans out of the paint defensively.
If anything, this game looked like a run-away train that was only stopped for the halftime break.
“I think it has to do with our heart. We love the game of basketball, we’re a family,” said Harris, who had 10 first half points for South Salem. “We communicate well, we moved the ball. Everything just went well for us in the first half.”
From the other side of the court, it was like the House of Horrors. What couldn’t go right for West Salem as they were battling with South Salem for first-place in the Mountain Valley Conference lead?
Riding a six-game winning streak, all seemed right with the world. A lay-in to beat McNary last Friday, dropping a 90-burger in double-overtime for the win against Mountian View Tuesday. This wasn’t what they envisioned Friday evening.
“We kind of played scared and we weren’t playing together,” said the Titans Justin Scoggins of the first half. “In that second half we brought it together and brought some energy. That just showed what we can do to play as a team with that energy.”
West Salem picked themselves off the mat to start the second half when they opened the third quarter on a 12-4 run to get the score to 44-27, taking advantage of the Saxons slow start out of the halftime break with eight third quarter points from Austin Galberth.
But, South Salem would slowly push their lead back to 25 in the closing seconds of the quarter only to see Galberth get it to 23 by quarters end at 63-40. A slight 25-23 Titan advantage after the Saxons held West to 15 points in 16 minutes.
West Salem kept scrapping, looking for a way to make this game interesting. At one point of the game, the South Salem lead was creeping closer and ever closer to 10 points after leading the game once by 25.
“If we just show up as a team, that’s where we play best. We got to play with energy and that didn’t come in the first half and I feel like that’s our secret,” said Scoggins. “Focusing on what we can do and not on what we can’t control is what I feel like is our biggest thing. We’re young and inexperienced so we just have to bring what we can bring instead of focusing on what we can’t.”
Scoggins is the lone Titan who saw a significant amount of Varsity time from last season’s senior-heavy West Salem team.
With 3:59 left and the game at a 12-point advantage, Nielsen-Skinner took some hard contact going up for a lay-up to be taken out of the remainder of the game after getting the wind knocked out of him.
It was some adversity that South Salem had to face down one of their vocal leaders with the Titans rallying with their home West Salem crowd getting rowdy with how much their team climbed back into the game.
“I personally think we play better with adversity. When we’re up by a lot starting of third quarter we don’t play really well like we’re up 20 or we’re up 30,” said Ryan Brown. “We don’t play like we need to win. I think Trey really came out and did what he really needed to, he really stepped up in a big situation. We didn’t have anyone to bring the ball down the court except for Trey, so he really stepped up in a big time.”
“We just got a little chip on our shoulder that we know that everyone’s against us so we just got to keep up with our composure when it comes down times like that,” adds Eric Lungu as the Saxons turned back up the heat on West Salem.
South Salem finished the game strongly with their 83-65 win on the road to take sole possession on top of the Mountain Valley Conference-lead.