By Jeremy McDonald
MOUNT ANGLE, Ore.– With the regular season drawing to an end and the conference league schedules the same, there’s almost certainty that both the Kennedy and Western Christian Boys basketball teams making the Field of 16 here in a few days in some fashion.
The Trojans were ranked sixth to the Pioneers first, and sure one will be an At-Large bid from the Tri-River Conference. But both wanted an automatic bid to remove any funkiness that may occur come announcement time.
Up 45-40 in the fourth quarter, Kennedy seemed to be on their way to rebuilding their lead that they had in the second quarter where they led 27-17 before Western Christian pulled them back within reach in the second half. It sure did feel like a tune-up game with both teams destined to reach the Sweet 16 and battling it out for one of the spots in Pendleton for the State Championship Trophy in a few short weeks.
“It was good getting some competition going into State and we’ll be ready. We have to work on our little things and keep working in practice on the small things to keep that lead at the end,” said the Trojans Ethan Kleinschmit. “We just have to take care of the ball, better shot selection and keep the lead.”
The little things allowed the Pios to get back into the game and stay in it after the initial ten-point deficit. And as it came down to crunch time in Wednesday’s TRC League Playoff game, the little things helped them explode out for a 19-4 quarter to advance to the Conference Championship Game Friday against Salem Academy at Salem Academy.
Owen Stalnaker provided the Western Christian offensive spark, scoring nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Stalnaker, Austin Sladek (17),and Chaz Storm (12) each scored in the double-figures.
With multiple players from those three to Jaaron Jansen and so on that could take over a game recently, it’s creating match-up issues at the right time for Western Christian entering the postseason.
“It felt really good, I feel like for future games teams will have to worry about all of us at the same time and it’s going to be tough to guard all of us,” Stalnaker said. “It’s just going to open all of us up instead of focusing on one person.
“Friday (against Salem Academy) is huge. It’s huge. We’re going to be treating it just like Pendleton, League Championship. We got to start on defense, that’s how we let them go on a 12-0 run or something last time we played at their place. We’re going to try our best to shut them down and we’re going to do the same thing we’ve been doing on offense.”
Ethan Kleinschmit finished with ten points for Kennedy, Riley Cantu and Stephan Salinas led the Trojans with 12 points. Salinas hit all four Kennedy three-pointers in the game.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald