By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.– This kind of Santiam team is scary. Like scary good. Like Final Four-caliber kind of play Thursday night at home when they took down an equally tough Regis team 64-45.
The Wolverines had jumped out 28-10 by the 3:30 mark of the second quarter. Winning seemingly on every faucet of the game as they held a good shooting Rams team to under ten points for the first 11-and-a-half minutes before Regis began to find their groove. Being in perhaps the toughest league in the state, if not one of the toughest in any classification, you knew that a team like the Rams weren’t about to fade into the abyss all that easily.
By looking at the final, you think Santiam cruises to Saturday’s final. But what started over those last 3:30 of the half and lasted until roughly the 4:30 mark, Regis went on one of those epic runs similar to the Wolverines as they flipped the 18-point deficit into a three-point lead midway through the third quarter. Leading the Wolverines 34-31, an 24-3 run that reminded those in the gym that the Rams could also contend for a Top-4 finish again in 2A coming March in Pendleton. Having won two games to get to this point in the league playoffs, Regis, as they did all season long, showed that they’re not an easy out.
“I’m really proud of how we worked. We stayed together, chipped away at it and we knew we could do it. (Santiam’s) a really good team, it says a lot that we were able to do it and it felt like we ran out of gas a little bit…dug ourselves a little too big of a hole and it’s really hard to do twice. But I’m proud of how we did it,” said Regis Head Coach Jason Koehnke. “The boys have big goals, they’ve been pretty motivated, but the run has been pretty good for us. A first-seed would always be great and all that, but I feel like we needed it and played well this week and we’re going to be playing with a lot of confidence next week no matter who we play.”
It’s every team to win the league championship and to lock-up the top seed out of their conference, and as the two squads were faced with a new game after the rally, Santiam found a stop when they needed one starting with Ezra Downey’s back-to-back baskets to hand the Wolverines back the lead. By the end of the third quarter, Santiam led 39-36. Whatever was said by Head Coach JD Hill and his coaching staff in between the quarters, the Wolverines came out like their first half selves and had rebuilt a double-digit lead and took advantage of the Rams fatigue to pull away for good.
“We were a little nervous when they bounced back, but then we turned up the tempo…they came out strong in the second half and we weren’t exactly ready. We felt settled and we weren’t ready, but that’s playoff basketball and we got back in it,” said Jesse Dana. “Just be confident and win the home court. We’re playing for the people here, so it gives us home court advantage.”
The goal in particular for Santiam has been this game all along. They’ve talked about it all year in being league champs. And with Kennedy defeating Salem Academy 47-39, the Wolverines get to try to bring home the league title at home for themselves and their community.
“We just got to come out like how we’ve been coming out like today. Play exactly like we played today and no doubt that we’ll be league champions Saturday,” Downey said.
Downey finished with 19 points and Dana added another 17 points in the victory. Isaiah Koehnke led the Rams with 17 points, Diego Aguilar contributed another 16 in the defeat.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald