By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Salem Academy Head Coach Ben Brown put it best following their 59-44 defeat to Western Christian Friday night:
It’s hard to beat a team three-times.
The Crusaders had the Pioneers number the first two times they’ve met, but something just felt different about this third meeting.
The Pioneer Faithful weren’t afraid to travel. It felt like this week it’s preparation in case they make it to Pendleton here in two weeks. They fed energy into their squad, the Western Christian squad turned it around and fed it off of each other in the Tri-River Conference League Playoff Championship Game.
“It was big, it just gave us momentum after a big play…it gave us momentum when we’re tired to give whatever we had left,” Lucas Zook said.
John Pass paced the Crusaders throughout with 17 points as Salem Academy hung around. Down 14-11 after one and pulled to within three of Western Christian early in the second half.
Then, the Pioneers began to hit their shots a little more consistently than the Crusaders were with Western pushing their lead to double-figures by the fourth quarter to help separate the two teams entering the 2A State Bracket.
“They came out and shot the ball well. They pulled us out of our zone, they were aggressive on defense and we weren’t ready to play on offense. We weren’t as aggressive on offense as we were on defense,” Brown said. “Austin (Sladek) and Chaz (Storm) have had great games, they both poured in the buckets really well.
“Austin…I don’t think he missed. Maybe he missed, but it seemed like every spin move was going off the backboard and going in. You get us chasing around and they were making us pay, loose balls going their way and shooting fifty percent in the first half.”
Brown adds that he was happy that his squad was sticking with it with the hopes of a minor cooldown by the Pioneer offense. Western Christian however, had other plans as they continued their shooting streak as they shot 50-percent from the field to the Crusaders 36.7-percent.
Sladek was 7-for-10 shooting, finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Storm finished with two blocks with a game-high 20-points to eight rebounds as Western Christian handed Salem Academy their first loss since December 31, 2021.
Team ball got the Pioneers to this point of winning two big road trips to Kennedy and now Salem Academy as they now await their first-round opposition with a trip to Pendleton on the horizon.
“We just have to continue to play team ball and play hard,” Zook said. “(Today) felt great to just come back and get redemption. We knew the last couple of times we played, we didn’t play our best basketball and tonight we knew we had to come out and perform.”
Zook scored 13 points in the victory for Western Christian. Jackson Oglesby scored nine points with eight rebounds and four steals for the Crusaders, who got the second seed out of the TRC after going 16-0 in regular season league play.