By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.— For two teams that could easily play each other here in a few days in the Tri-River Conference League Playoffs, Thursday night could be a warm-up for what is possibly to come ahead.
Sheridan hasn’t had the easiest stretch to close out the regular season, having to play Western Christian, Kennedy and Santiam within the last week-and-a-half. Having gone 0-2 and were looking like they’ll be on their way to their third-in-a-row loss down 36-24 with the Wolverines on a run, the Spartans had began to chip away at the deficit.
The Sparty faithful made the voyage along Highway 22 looking to avenge their Senior Night defeat to the Trojans by the Santiam Senior Night. Sheridan’s crowd matched the intensity of the Wolverines in noise, matching that of the court play with the Spartans pulling in within three entering the fourth quarter down 45-42.
“It takes 32 minutes to finish a whole game and (Head Coach Steven Grauber) kept reminding us to play 32 minutes, 32 minutes. Honestly, it’s everyone on my team. They’ve been doing great and we just got to keep it up,” said DeEldon Paulk, who finished with a game-high 29 points with six three-pointers. “We got a lot more basketball to play.”
Sheridan once again will have a tough road ahead with Culver Saturday at home, win and they got Santiam again in Mill City. Defeat Santiam and it’s Kennedy in Mt. Angel. Defeat Kennedy and they’ll get one of the automatic bids to State while having to play the dynasty in Western Christian for the number-one seed.
The Spartans hung around, Paulk hits a three to hand Sheridan a 53-51 lead was short lived as Colin Thurston responded with a three to hand the Wolverines back the lead. Paulk connected on another three to make it 56-54.
Santiam has been battling injury all season with injuries to Thurston, Aiden Aerni and Hunter Reeser, the squad’s just getting healthy when they need it most. Reeser, who suffered an ankle injury January 23 at Sheridan, played Thursday scoring four points as it’s assumed the Spartans will come out of Saturday’s game with the Bulldogs.
“This is one of the few games all season that we’ve had a full roster,” said Thurston, who had 15 points in the game. “ We’re still trying to find that contiguity and I think we’re right there. So heading into playoffs like this, I think we can make a good run because this weekend, I feel like we can knock these things into place and go on a run.
“We definitely got a few things we need to improve on and I think next time, when we get down in these situations like that we’ll have a good shot at these things.”
It was their second game at home in which it came down to the wire in league. The other came when they had the Pioneers on the ropes January 17 in Western Christian’s 60-55 victory that night.
Santiam had two cracks in the closing moments to either win or force overtime from deep. Both shots missed by fractions, losing a tough 58-55 battle entering the TRC League Playoffs with Sheridan entering Saturday’s game with some momentum for Culver.
“It was huge. We’ve lost the last couple of games, but we’ve bounced back and came with a job and now we got a game on Saturday we’re going to go kill,” said Paulk.
Ezra Downey had a team-high 19 points for Santiam. Wyatt Schultz added ten points in the win for the Spartans.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald