By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Ever since Ben Brown has arrived at Salem Academy, first as the Head Girls Basketball coach during the 2014-2015, there’s a good chance that you’ll see the team he’s associated with at the Final Site. Coos Bay and now Pendleton, Head Coach and the one year he was an assistant under previous Head Boys Coach Ryan Kendall, Brown has been a major fixture at these Elite Eight games.
And as the introduction has eluded to, one of his teams has done it again. Following the Crusader Boys 55-23 win over Oakland, the long-time Salem Academy coach is taking another team to the Big Dance in the first weekend of March. And here’s the kicker, and not the Dutch Bros drink, they’ve never had to travel to get to the Elite Eight.
Madness? Some luck involved? Perhaps. Hard Work paying off? That’s for certain.
“Thankfully I’ve had a lot of great players and just great kids. Kids that have bought into the system, dreamed and worked hard every season. I’m starting with defense and this year is no different from any team. Mine is going to be defense first,” Brown said. “Making the Elite Eight every year I’ve been a Head Coach or been coaching as an assistant has been terrific.”
Defense was front and center in the opening quarter against the Oakers Friday evening at home. The Crusaders surrendered just three points while bursting out to a 17-3 lead before they settled into a groove for the remainder of the game.
“The first quarter was super important because I think we were all nervous. We were all nervous because this was the big one. No Pendleton if you don’t win, so getting a bunch of shots to go. Getting put-backs and rebounds and shutting them down was super important and it helped us in the second quarter,” John Pass said.
Oakland kept paced with Salem Academy in the second quarter. A 28-13 deficit sounded better going into the third quarter but the Oakers couldn’t crack the Crusaders defense as the Salem Academy defense ballooned to 39-20 after three and to 45-20 soon after to punch their ticket to the Northeastern corner of Oregon next weekend.
They call this game the play-in to the real fun, and now that they’ve accomplished one goal. It’s now onto the next one, opening the three-day tournament ahead with a hot-handed Regis team that have looked to be hitting their stride at the right time.
“We’ve already played them and they’re well-coached . They’re a physical team, they finished second in that league (the Central Valley Conference) swith Oakland and they just beat Jefferson in a great contest. We’re going to have to push us hard to get a win there,” Brown said. “When you get to the final site, you can throw the rankings out the window because it’s night-to-night who’s going to be there. Who’s shots are going to roll in and all that. You’ll never know.”
The game is scheduled for 6:30pm at Pendleton High School.
Jackson Oglesby had an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double with four steals. Pass finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assist in the win. Baker Brooksby of Oakland finished with 11 points and six rebounds as the Oakers finish the year 18-10.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald