By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.—Oregon City challenged the mental game of South Salem on top of challenging them physically on the court.
Besides the on-the-court talk, the Pioneer bench got loud and boisterous to try to get the physically talented Saxon off their game and see how they would react during the game.
45 seconds into the second half of the South Salem 56-51 win, the Oregon City bench got a technical foul that Kieran Pruett split that pushed the lead to then 30-23. As importantly, the Saxons kept their composure throughout the mental-game their opponent threw their way Friday night.
“It’s really how we’re built together, like we’ve built mental toughness from the jump,” said Nick Zuro. “We’ve been running like crazy. We just have that mental edge over our opponents to finish out games.
There wasn’t a doubt too that Oregon City was talented. Faced with a 37-27 deficit late in the third quarter, they cut it to 39-34 entering the fourth quarter and then eventually tied the game at 43 as the game went into overtime.
The Pioneers scrappy play on defense and going in for rebounds had frustrated the flow of the Saxons-style. Oregon City had took out the Nick Zuro threat, Zuro scored 11 of his 22 points in the opening 16 minutes by double-teaming and challenging him on the rebounding front.
What’s weird as well, the Pioneer defense contested each South Salem shot that the Saxons scored 17 second half points after scoring 29 in the opening half. Creating opportunities that landed late for the Pios to get back into the game and force overtime at 43-all.
“This is the second game we had to go to overtime, we’ve been here before,” said Kieran Purett. “But with both me and Trey (Galbraith) into foul trouble, it was tough. We came together well. I’m proud with how we handled ourselves, we stayed poised. I’m proud with how we handled ourselves.”
Purett and Galbraith were in-and-out of the game due to four fouls late, causing some chaos in-house not having a familiar face at the point running the system. But when it came down to it, both contributed down the stretch in the win.
Both squads traded and a Zuro and a Dalton Welch basket with 3:!5 to go and the game knotted at 49. Being in this position before against Tualatin December 6, the Saxons dug deep.
Issac Gabrel split his free throws that gave the lead back to South. Zuro gets a big rebound. Purett hits a mid-range shot from the key, Saxons up three with 1:30 left. Galbraith gets a block and followed that with a pair at the line.
The Pioneers got the game to within three, but Gabriel iced the game moments later at the line as South starts Capitol City Classic play Thursday against West Albany.
“I feel like a lot of the stuff right here, things that challenge our mental toughness, will carry over throughout the entire season,” said Zuro of Friday’s game.
Zuro finished with 22 points with Cole Hardy adding another ten for the Saxons. Andre Best had a team-high 14 points for Oregon City.