By Jeremy McDonald
PENDLETON, Ore.– It’s hard to game-plan for the same team three-times during a season let-lone a fourth when playoffs come around.
For the Western Christian-Santiam Boys Basketball match-up, the two squads had already met three teams in the umbrella of the Tri-River Conference-play already by the time they met to start the Elite 8 at Pendleton Thursday night.
But hey, as the Wolverines roared to life in the second quarter to take a 20-14 lead on the defending 2A State Champions. The goal all season was to get to get to the State Title game, and this was the first step towards it.
“We’ve been working at this all day, it’s something we’ve been wanting for a long time. It’s sucks, we’ve been working all season,” said Hunter Reeser. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to play in the championship game, this was the first step and we didn’t do it.”
The Pioneers answered, wanting to defend their title, used a 7-0 run to take a 21-20 halftime lead over Santiam. Their defense created headaches for the Wolverine offense into the second half as they built a 32-24 lead entering the third quarter. Payton Richardson and Alex Nicoli set the pace.
Richardson answered Chazz Storm’s 11-point, 12-rebound double-double with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double himself. Nicoli led the game with 16 points as Western Christian outscored the Wolverines 40-13 since the 3:39 mark of the second quarter.
“Oh we needed that. Our coaches did great prepping for them all week. We’ve played them four times already, they’re a great team and we just had to play great team ball,” said Richardson. “We were a little selfish there in the first half, but we just came out and did our thing and it’s going to push us into the next game.”
Friday night’s match-up is a familiar one for the Pioneers, having to face Columbia Christian. The two teams met in the 2A State Finals the last two years but will be meeting in the 2A State Semi-Finals at 8pm for a chance to get to get to Saturday’s final.
“Tomorrow…its just another game. (Columbia Christian) is a great team, we’re a good team, so we just got to play hard and it’s just another team,” said Richardson.
For the Wolverines, they get the 10:45am game against Coquille for a chance to go chase for the fourth-place trophy. As much as this one hurts, they need to come out more relaxed and have patience in waiting for things to happen.
“Just play a little more lax and make plays when they’re there,” said Reeser.