Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
With senior Micah Neufeld as its anchor, the Rogue Valley Adventist boys basketball team thwarted every relentless rally that Triad attempted on Thursday.
Neufeld finished with 22 points — all after the first quarter — and knocked down pivotal free throws late in the game to help the Hawks fend off the Timberwolves, 56-51, in Mountain Valley League play at Rogue Valley Adventist High School.
"This win has to do with the heart of our team," said RVA coach Mike Glasgow. "Our guys never quit. Triad is a great team, and this win is going to be a big morale booster for us, I think."
The Hawks (19-4, 14-1 MVL) moved a half-game ahead of idle Hosanna Christian with the victory. However, if the two teams win out and finish league play with the same record, Hosanna Christian holds the tiebreaker over the Hawks for the top spot. RVA completes MVL play at Trinity Lutheran on Saturday.
The Timberwolves (18-7, 12-4) didn't make it easy for the Hawks to pull away, particularly thanks to Gabe Ovgard, who nearly brought Triad back by himself.
With less than two minutes to play following two made free throws by Austin Petray that increased the Hawks' lead to 51-45, Ovgard received the ball near the 3-point line and, without hesitation, banked in a 3-pointer to cut RVA's lead to 51-48.
Following a pair of free throws by Neufeld, here came Ovgard again.
This time, he brought the ball up court and with a hand in his face, hoisted up a trey from about 4 feet behind the arc to slice RVA's lead to 53-51.
"Triad doesn't quit," said Glasgow. "You've got to give (Ovgard) credit for that. Those two 3-pointers that he hit were huge."
Triad immediately got the ball back on a turnover, but the Hawks defense denied the Timberwolves on three straight shots near the basket, with the final attempt being corralled by the 5-foot-11 Neufeld. Neufeld proceeded to sew up the victory at the charity stripe, going 3-for-4.
It was the second time the Hawks held a defensive stand underneath, denying three straight shots by Triad.
"These guys are really fun to play against," said Neufeld, whose team won at Triad, 58-57 in overtime, earlier this season. "They are always close games. We all like the close games. You've got to experience them to bond as a team."
Junior forward Caleb Allen scored the first six points of the game for the Hawks and Jonathan Alvarez followed by swishing a high-arching 3-pointer from the left corner, leading to an 11-2 advantage for RVA.
The Timberwolves, however, responded by capping the opening period with an 11-0 run to take a 13-11 lead.
Neufeld gave RVA its next five points and a 16-15 lead, and the Hawks didn't trail again.
Allen, who was hounded by Triad defenders every time he stepped foot in the key, was kept at bay with 11 points — half of his 22 per-game average. He also pulled down eight rebounds.
Alvarez's energy, particularly on the defensive end, gave the Hawks a much-needed spark. Right after he drilled a 3-pointer to give RVA a 35-31 edge, his scramble to make a steal on two different defenders turned into a strip of the ball and a transition layin with about 30 seconds left in the third.
"I just feel like if I play hard, it will inspire my teammates and motivate them to play hard," said Alvarez.
Alvarez registered nine points, five steals and three assists while Neufeld had three 3-pointers and four assists.
Petray went for seven points and five rebounds — four of which were offensive. Three of his offensive rebounds were converted into points for the Hawks in momentum-swinging moments.
"Austin has really come on," said Glasgow. "He works really hard on his game and his rebounding really helped us a lot today."
Ovgard and Austin McGrew paced the Timberwolves with 15 points apiece and Will Brain tossed in 12.
The Hawks were 11 of 15 at the free-throw line compared to the Timberwolves' 3-for-15 performance.
TRIAD (51) — Ovgard 15, Brain 12, Builta 0, Riblett 7, Trumbull 2, McGrew 15. Totals: 22-57 3-15 51.
ROGUE VALLEY ADVENTIST (56) — Petray 7, Neufeld 22, James 5, Alvarez 9, Bornemann 2, Allen 11. Totals: 9-51 11-15 56.
Triad 13 6 15 17 — 51
Rogue Valley Adventist 11 13 18 14 — 56
3-point goals — Triad 4 (Ovgard 2, McGrew 2), Rogue Valley Adventist 7 (Neufeld 3, Alvarez 2, James 1, Allen 1). Fouled out — Alvarez.
Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4492, or e-mail email@example.com