By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– The Western Christian Boys Basketball team has been the thorn in the side, a burr under one’s saddle even. Name any idiom that’s similar and that’s what the Pioneers have been for the Salem Academy Boys basketball team the last few meetings among the two 2A juggernauts. Practically since the Crusaders came down to 2A from 3A back in the 2020-21 Covid Short-Season, it’s became the rivalry to see in the Tri-River Conference and in the postseason.
And in Tuesday’s rivalry match, the traveling Western Christian squad extended their winning streak over Salem Academy to four dating back to last year’s TRC League Playoff match-up en route to their State Title Victory a few weeks later following their 52-49 victory.
It was hard-fought, as expected from squads led by Ben Brown and Gary Hull, with the Pios using a 16-8 advantage to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 16-15 lead in the second quarter. That started a jockeying for position as both teams just went back-and-forth with the lead going into the second half and into the fourth quarter.
“Playing against Western has always been a big battle and everyone knows that. We’re rivals,” the Crusaders Jackson Ogelsby said. “But it was a tough game. Both teams shot really well, it was really intense and defense and all that. We just got to look into the future and that State is in front of us, so we got to beat Blanchet on Thursday and know that’ll take us into playoffs and playoffs will lead into the State Championship Game.
“Since Western beat us twice this year and they beat us at State last year, it’s just going to put a big chip on our shoulder for us leading into State and that we got to get to that game on March 4 at 7:30 against Western hopefully so we can get our get-back.”
Oglesby gave Salem Academy a brief 47-45 lead with a pair of free throws with 1:37 left in regulation, two of 27 points that the senior had in the game. The Pioneers answered with a three-pointer from Gage Slaughter that handed Western Christian the lead on the next possession. Gavin Hall pushed the lead to 50-47 with a pair of free throws himself for the Pios before Oglesby drew Salem Academy back to within one with 19.3 seconds left in the game.
Hall was fouled pretty quickly on the inbound. They called it Pressure Free Throws with the game on the line. Without Lucas Zook in the game Tuesday, Hall was the lone experienced athlete from last year’s State Championship winning squad. And with how well the squad was playing in this game, this whole season, Hall wasn’t and didn’t let his not-so-inexperienced-anymore squad down as he hit a pair of free throws and their defense clutched up when they needed to in order to finish off the job.
Hall admits there were some nerves walking to the line, but the grit and fire they all brought to the court on this day helped lift Western Christian on the road.
“This is grit. Everyone brings fire and intensity, it was great,” Hall said. “We’ve all been playing together for a while and we know where everyone’s going to be on the floor so it all plays out.. It just feels good, they’re kind of our rival so it felt good. I can’t explain it right now, it feels so good.”
Hall and Logan Hill each had 16 points for the Pioneers, who wrapped up the regular season Tuesday with a 19-6 overall record and 11-3 in league. The Crusaders wrap up the season Thursday at Blanchet Catholic with a 5:30pm tip-off.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald