By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Well. That was a doozy of a game.
Western Christian and Dayton boys lived up to the hype that the only thing that would’ve topped it possibly could’ve been a game-winner or overtime.
The 50-47 Pioneers win was the second win of the season, Western Christian taking the first meeting 62-52 on January 7 in Dayton.
But, unlike the sizable margin as their first meeting was, it came down to a freshman to seal the win. Putting the Pios back on track following their 60-48 loss to Salem Academy Tuesday night
Even then, as Gavin Hall hit his two free throws to ice the win, the Pirates aggressively got back into the game. Twice in the second half they went down double-figures, only to rally the ships to get the pressure back on Western Christian to finish the game.
The energy from the bench and the seniors aided in adding the literal wind to their sails as Dayton pulled to within one of the Pioneers with under a minute to play. It was 48-47 Western Christian following the Pirates Tyler Spink’s basket with 1:24 left in the game. At two separate points in the second half, the Pioneers had led 34-21 and 46-35 on Dayton, seemingly counting the Pirates out for the count down the stretch.
“Our senior’s man. They brought the energy. The bench today was crazy. All that, you come back. It was really fun to play too, to come back like that. It teaches us late game what we got to do and how we got to prepare,” Dayton Pirate Trae Wall said. “That first half wasn’t our best basketball. But that second half, we made up for it and going into playoffs, we’re not going to slide like that. So we need to pick it up in the first half from the jump.”
Those runs by the Pioneers were just as important as Dayton’s. Against the Kennedy’s, Sheridan’s and Salem Academy’s in Tri-River Conference play in 2A, they’ve been challenged with runs from those three teams as fell to the Trojans once, Crusaders twice; but got it done against the Spartans twice and got revenge on Kennedy back on. Answering strongly in the fourth quarter, a weakness of theirs points Austin Sladek as they pushed towards the finish line.
“It was super important…It was huge, it was huge to come back from Salem Academy and give us forward momentum going into league and State,” Sladek said. “Coming out in the fourth quarter has been one of our biggest things because we’ve let down a lot.”
Neither team could settle it down over the course of the next minute. The crowd was into it, making it feel like a Final Four game in Coos Bay or Pendleton. Legendary coaches in Ron Hop and Gary Hull trying to get their teams to possess the ball and to get their nerves to calm down.
Dayton had one crack during this stretch off a turnover to pull ahead for the first time since leading 12-9 late in the first quarter, but lost the ball as a tight-rope act by the Pioneers forced the Pirates to foul in hopes for another chance.
That’s when the freshman in Hall came to play. After drawing the necessary fouls, he was called upon to finish the job with 22 seconds left in the one-and-one opportunity. He hits the first and the second to push the 48-47 lead to 50-47.
“I was just like, ‘I gotta make these free throws’. I was pretty confident about it because we practice them all the time, so I was confident that I was going to make them,” Hall said. “I think (this game) is going to help us a lot. This is a really tough game and they’re a tough team and I think they’re going to help us keep going. We’re going to feed off of this one for the next few games.”
Hall finished with five points, Sladek added seven with Chaz Storm leading the way with 16 points as Western Christian hit nine three’s in the game.
Dayton couldn’t force overtime as they head back to work, awaiting their opponent in the 3A PacWest Conference Championship Game following their 6-0 league season. Wall led the Pirates with 14 points. Benji Hudson and Spink each scored ten, eight in the second half for Hudson while Spink contributed seven in the final 16 minutes. Michael Freeborn scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter in part of the fourth quarter surge that the Pirates had in the quarter.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald