By Jeremy McDonald
PENDLETON, Ore.- The last time Santiam and Kennedy met on February 13, the Wolverines squeaked out a 50-44 win to steal the second automatic bid out of the Tri-River League entering the Field of 16.
Fast forward to Saturday morning, it looked as if Santiam would be running away with the fourth-place trophy entering the second quarter up 8-0 on the Trojans with their strong start on Day 3 of the State tournament.
“It was fun, we just didn’t score a whole lot. We played good defense though. We played good defense the whole game,” said Wolverines freshman Chazz Storm.
As Storm eluded too, the Wolverines started to struggle on their offensive front thanks to the defensive force on the other side of the court with the Kennedy defense clamping down after their slow start.
Rocco Carley joked that he had to make up for this lack of offense, scoring only four points in the 39-28 Trojan win for fourth-place, but led the defensive front with five blocks and 12 rebounds. Carley mentioned that with how physical Santiam is, with the majority of them being football players, rebounding was key.
After that first quarter, they knew too they needed to pick it up defensively in general if they wanted to get back into the game.
“I mean we just fed off of our defense because after we got down 8-0, we were like ‘we have to pick our defense up’,” said Carley. “We got a couple of steals, caused a couple of turnovers and just fed our offense. Just push the ball up the floor and got a couple of easy lay-ups and a few possessions later we were back into the game.”
By the 2:27 mark of the second quarter, the once eight-point Wolverine lead was now a Trojan five-point lead up 13-8.
Santiam answered with a 6-0 run off of a Jesse Sendlinger jumper and free throws from Colin Thruston and Storm before Bruce Beyers hit a lay-in to hand Kennedy a 15-14 lead.
The Wolverines took a brief 18-15 lead before Carson Hall hit back-to-back threes to hand the Trojans back the lead 21-18. For Kennedy, they answered Thursday’s loss to number-two Columbia Christian with a 55-44 win over the Central Valley Conference winner in Oakland to get to the trophy game.
And their defense continued to be a nuisance to the Wolverine offense as they held a two-possession lead for much of the second half after regaining the lead early in the second half.
“It feels pretty good to win after we lost that first game. To come back mentally, it’s tough. Battling in the morning, two days-in-a-row it feels nice,” said Hall.
Hall finished with 13 points and five rebounds in the game.
There were frustrations nonetheless for Santiam. Their 26.7-percent from the field was one of their worst performances of the season pointed out Hunter Reeser.
But, through it all, they were grateful of the opportunity as they brought home their second trophy in three-years, the other being the State Championship Trophy in 2017. And with guys like Storm, Reeser and Aidan Aerni coming back next season for Santiam, sixth-place is a good starting point for them moving into the off-season.
“It’s fantastic, all me and my buddies have been looking forward to this since we were kids so it’s cool to see our dreams coming true,” said Reeser, who had three points and six rebounds. “We just need to put in some work in the offseason, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a lot better. We’re going to hit the weight room and we’ll be back next year.”
Thurston led the Wolverines with eight points and nabbed four rebounds in the game.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald