By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It’s always difficult to beat a team three-times in a season and mixed in the league playoff pressure. Anything is possible.
Salem Academy had a strong start to the game, but Amity answered with a strong first half finish and stronger third as they led 40-34 entering the fourth quarter following Michael Duncan’s buzzer-beating lay-in in the Warriors 63-51 win Wednesday.
For the Warriors, who were down 18-11 and 15-7 earlier in the game, it was all about slowing it down and feeding their big man in the post in Josh Wart. Eventually it opened up the offense with Tyler Parr, Duncan and West Streeter to name a few.
“Personally, I just sit there, slow the pace because you don’t want to get too worked up. That leads to turnovers,” said the Guard Duncan. “I just wanted to slow it down and making sure that we’re feeding Josh for easy lay-ups.”
And Amity did just that, slow it down and allowed their offense to set up and succeed as they did in the second half. Salem Academy won the rebounding battle 37 to 28, but the Warriors were efficient offensively, shooting 60-percent after shooting 34.6-percent in the first half.
Amity pushed their lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter before the Crusaders charged back and cut the lead to size at five 52-47 with 1:46 left in the contest. But there was something off for Salem Academy on this night unlike their previous 10 PacWest Conference games.
“We were not ourselves, we were not playing like ourselves. Shots weren’t falling, a couple of shots fell in the first quarter, but our shots weren’t falling,” said the Crusaders Cole Hardy. “It was rough. We weren’t running our offenses, me and everyone else were forcing a lot but we weren’t ourselves tonight.”
After 1-5 start to the season, Salem Academy picked up wins in 12 of their next 17 that included an 8-2 league record to nab the second-seed entering the PacWest Conference League Playoffs. And with them playing Blanchet Catholic Saturday at 3pm at Central High School, the Crusaders still are in the hunt for a 3A At-Large Bid sitting 13-11 on the year.
“The whole season we’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulders because we’ve had such a tough preseason and we’ve always been the underdog,” said Hardy, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “Just playing with that chip on our shoulder, especially after this game. Playing with a chip on our shoulders, just being aggressive and play our best basketball.”
Amity finished the game on a 11-4 run to get the Automatic Qualifier from the PacWest that set-up the rivalry trilogy with Dayton Saturday night also at Central High School. Having defeated the Pirates last Wednesday in Dayton 70-64 to knock them from the number-one spot in the rankings, the Warriors are looking to do the same Saturday night for the top-seed out of the conference.
“We’re definitely going to have a game plan for (Braeden) Nowlin and (Lukas) Findley, trying to lock down Jaysen (Howard) on my end,” said Wart, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. “Just bring out the intensity and hope for the best.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald