By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– This was something that athlete’s dream about. Game on the line and the ball in their hands
With 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation, North Salem’s Braden Vasquez walked up to the line with three free-throws coming his way.
The Vikings needed all three free throws in order to force overtime with Central leading 50-47. Vasquez had been one of the major factors to help North stay in the game as the Senior dropped 32 points in North Salem’s 56-53 overtime win over the Panthers Thursday night.
“I was trained like that. I was trained to be that guy and my teammates put me in the right position,” said Vasquez. “I did what was best for my team. It was just me and the basket.”
Throughout the game, Central had their chances to pull away from the Vikings. They led 8-2 to start, North Salem reeled them back in as Tameron Hampton threw it down with a dunk for two of his seven points.
The Panthers built leads of 17-11 and 26-21, but the little things just got in their way as Vasquez hit two three-pointers to pull North Salem to within one at the halftime break.
“We came out with energy, we just got to be smart. That guy’s been doing that all game, you can’t be up on him that much. He’s going to be looking for every foul,” said Central’s Brendan Lesimester with Vasquez at the line at the end of regulation. “We came out with the right energy, but sometimes it moves into sloppy. We came halftime with 11 turnovers or something like that, we aren’t going to win like that.”
Lesimester finished with 14 points for the Panthers. Jesse Cable and Kaleb Kantola pushed the Panthers to a 32-29 lead early in the third quarter and led 40-38 after three quarters. Junior Nunez and Adrian Barba put Central up 50-44 with under 45 seconds remaining after going a combined 3-for-4 at the line to seemingly put the game on ice.
Or. That was until the Vikings last gasp brought them to the brink of overtime with Vasquez at the line with under two seconds to go.
Like practice Vasquez hit them. One after another after another to knot up the game at 50 as Kantola’s last second three wasn’t let off in time. But Kantola’s size helped them on the defensive front with two rebounds that led to a Cable basket to hand Central a two-point lead to start Overtime.
Vasquez tied it, Barba handed the lead back, Vasquez hit two free throws with 1:17 left in the overtime period. His three free throws at the end of regulation seemed to be the thing that pushed the Vikings ahead for good with North Salem finishing the Overtime period on a 4-0 advantage to find themselves two games out of the final automatic Mid-Willamette Conference playoff berth.
“We just got to do what we do best. Today we didn’t play a complete game, so if we play a complete game we get this game by 10. So I think we got to keep pushing each other in practice, that’s where it all starts,” said Vasquez.
For Central, who feel the same way on the other side of the court, too know that it’s going to be down to them pushing through this adversity sitting at 6-6 in league and look at each game like it’s the first-place team in league.
“It’s a tough game. It’s one of those games where you can’t lose going into this part of the season,” said Lesimester “We have to pick up all of these games. Now we’re forced to win some of those hard ones down the road. You can’t go into any game looking at records or anything.
“You got to go into every game thinking that it’s that first place team and just playing one-game at a time and you can’t let up at all because that goes to show that if you don’t come out with energy.”
Central is at Lebanon Tuesday at 7pm while North is at West Albany Tuesday also at 7pm.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald