It had been several years since the St. Mary’s Crusaders hosted a men’s basketball game of such significance as the one they hosted Wednesday night on their home court. The contest was the kickoff of the Far West League Playoffs, and on the line was the opportunity to move one step closer to a post season OSAA State Playoff spot. Hosting the visiting South Umpqua Lancers, to whom they’d lost a close game earlier in the season, St. Mary’s was up for the task. It was apparent from the jump that both teams understood the significance of the evening and both squads came out completely locked in defensively. Neither team was willing to give up an easy basket and it took well over two minutes before the scoring was opened with a breakaway layup by the Crusaders’ Tyson Delplanche. However, the stingy defense did not let up and the quarter ended with a low score with St. Mary’s up 10-8.
The second quarter picked right back up in defensive intensity as both teams stayed locked in. It was a chess match of a game, with both sides matching blows and countering moves with no one able to unlock their offense to pull away. St. Mary’s was heroically carried almost entirely by their starting front court to build a slight lead at halftime as seniors Kayden Walker and Noah Friesen were responsible for sixteen of the quarters’ eighteen points. Walker did a great job protecting the ball and both players directed the team with an assured leadership. At the break, St. Mary’s found themselves holding on to a 28-23 point lead.
The Crusaders came out from halftime with a new defensive look, moving to a high intensity 1-2-2 Zone defense making outside shots difficult to come by for the Lancers, who had hit several big three’s in the waning moments of the first half. To counter, South Umpqua switched their offensive approach and were quickly able to find several open back door cuts for easy layups to slice into the Crusader lead. St. Mary’s head coach Kyle Walker called a time out, and with a few minor adjustments, the defense locked down their opponents upon returning to the court, completely frustrating the visitors. Using the momentum that began on the defensive side, St. Mary’s was able to push their lead to nine points, with the score at 45-36 to end the third.
The final quarter proved to be the turning point where St. Mary’s was able to take control of the game. The confident play displayed by the Crusaders indicated they never once felt they were not in control. Led by their five starting seniors, who all made significant contributions, they confidently and methodically worked to put the game away. Kayden Walker had a season high with twenty five points and Noah Friesen continued his hot shooting from outside the arch finishing with five three pointers. Jaden Foster and Heemir Patel controlled the rebounding battle and Tyson Delplanche played constant lock down defense.
As South Umpqua’s frustration continued to build it finally boiled over with just over two minutes left in the 4th during an intense sequence in which the team was flagged with three successive technical fouls in a row, giving the Crusaders six free throws and possession of the ball at a critical point in the game. After this turn of events, the Lancers were never able to bounce back and St. Mary’s expertly slowed down their pace, taking full advantage of the lack of a shot clock in Oregon. They were able to display poise and patience on the offensive end to either find good looks or get to the charity stripe. The Crusaders put the game away with a final score of 69-57. Coach Walker was proud of the team saying, “This was a big game for us and clearly the team did not want to be done with the season yet. It’s hard to play in a game with so much pressure, where you lose and your season ends but tonight the guys met that challenge and now they get a few more games. It was a great night for our seniors that their last game played at home will hold such a positive memory for them.” When asked about the possibility of moving on to the state playoffs, Walker added “I’m just so happy these young men met so many of their season goals. Now everything is just a bonus.” Up next for the Crusaders is a trip tonight to Douglas High School in round two of the Far West playoffs.
St. Mary’s Scoring:
Kent David- 3
Noah Friesen- 20
Jaden Foster- 6
Kayden Walker- 25
Tyson Delplanche- 11
Heemir Patel- 4