By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Western Christian picked up where they left off when they first met Santiam in Mill City on January 17.
They brought the pressure from the opening tip with their fame press and slapping the ground on defense coming off a break. They led 14-3 from the tip and set the pace entering the second half up 16 in their 58-41 win Thursday night.
“We didn’t come out good last time, so we knew we had to switch that up this time. We were super pumped the girls had a great game, that was exciting, we just picked up the energy,” said the Pioneers Payton Richardson. “The gym was packed, it was awesome. We just kept the energy going…. they’re a great team, so we had to step it up.”
With how the Western Christian gym is set up, the crowd noise is trapped and builds. The heat in the gym feels like that of a sauna that makes it challenging for any opposition that comes up Highway 221.
The biggest kryptonite for the Wolverines on this night was their slow start to the game. Playing without one of their defensive rocks in Hunter Reeser, out with an ankle injury suffered in the closing minutes against Sheridan last Thursday, had struggled to match the Pios offensive output into the second half.
Twice in the third quarter however, Santiam had cut Western Christian’s lead to ten points at 35-25 and 39-29, but couldn’t find that extra kick to overcome the deficit in the game.
“We went on a couple of good runs but we just couldn’t close the distance enough,” said the Wolverines Erza Downey. “Fatigue was definitely setting in, I was tired. I know Colin (Thurston) was tired, he gave a heck-of-a-game. We all just fought and came up short.”
Thurston used his athletic ability and flew around to make up for the absence of the Reeser knowing Kennedy and Sheridan still await in front of them to oust Santiam from second-place in the Tri-River Conference.
“We just got to keep fighting like we did. I thought we fought hard, Western’s a great team. We got to keep fighting and praying that he gets well soon,” said Downey of Reeser.
Even up 47-31 entering the fourth quarter, Western Christian Head Coach Gary Hull was still hyping up his players. If they could go on an 11-0 run to start the fourth as they did in Mill City, so can Santiam.
The Pioneers came out strong in the fourth, holding Santiam at bay. Richardson admits that, that intensity they had in that fourth quarter on the road, they need to bring that intensity from the reminder of the season in notching another win to their season total.
“That’s just the coaches, they do a great job keeping us composed and tell us what we need to do,” said Richardson. “I’m proud of all of our teammates, we answered the bell with our coaches. Everyone’s super coachable, we all listen and respect them so much. We got great coaches that keep us composed in those times.”
Richardson (11), Alex Nicoli (14) and Ethan Halgren (11) all scored in double-figures for Western Christian.
Downey had 14 points for Santiam. Chaz Storm and Quinten Cook each scored eight for the Wolverines in the defeat.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald