By Jeremy McDonald
CORVALLIS, Ore.– A great week of practice led into a strong start to their Elite 8 opening 57-39 win versus Crater Wednesday night.
Behind seven first-half three-pointers, two from David Gonzales and three from Grant Dunn the Foxes offense produced 34 first half points as they prepared all week for Nate Bittle and the Central Point squad entering Wednesday’s game.
“Coming into this week of practice our whole focus was on Bittle and (Jayden Vranes), he’s a quick player and Bittle. Everyone could see, Pac-12 future All-Star. There’s nothing you could do against the shots that he made, he’s a good athletic player,” said Gonzales.
Vranes finished with six points in the game, and Bittle, his six-ten frame and athleticism creates match-up problems for his opposition as he scored 12 of his 17 points coming in the first half.
Levi Nielsen drew the assignment to guard the sophomore-stud, and didn’t make anything simple for Bittle with Silverton leading 34-17 at the halftime break.
“It’s tough, he’s super tall but he can play like a guard too so you can’t leave him because he can hit the three but can also post you up and take you on the drive,” said the six-four Nielsen. “I had fun guarding him, I just embraced the challenge.”
In the second half, Crater did get the game to 10 by the 3:58 mark of the third quarter at 25-15, but Silverton challenged the sophomore to stop them as they attacked Bittle and eventually took him out of the equation. Putting the pressure on Bittle’s Comet teammates to step up against the Foxes defense.
“As you saw he was a shot-blocker so our strategy was to…when we attacked him, going after his chest and getting him off his spot and make him foul us,” said Nielsen. “We knew if we could get him into foul trouble then it’ll be a huge factor for the game.”
Bittle picked up five of his eight blocks in the second half, but picked up his fourth foul during the third quarter and eventually bowed out in the fourth with his fifth as the Foxes used a 32-24 edge to ice the win at Gill Coliseum.
If anything, their nearly 20-points was an appetizer for what’s next Friday: Number 2 Wilsonville.
And as they prepare, the main goal right now is to come together as one as they now look towards the Wildcats, just a game away from the State Title Game.
“Coming into the State Tournament, it’s all about coming together and I think we’re going to do that really well over the next day. We’re going to come watch the girls game, hopefully they’ll end up with a good one and jus hangout, bond and just have a good time together,!” said Gonzales.