Are they battle-tested enough? Can they keep up with the big boys in the Class 3A playoffs?

Are they battle-tested enough? Can they keep up with the big boys in the Class 3A playoffs?

Those are just a couple of questions opposing coaches from around the state have offered up to the third-ranked Cascade Christian boys basketball team heading into the Class 3A state playoffs.

The Sunset League-champion Challengers (25-2), last year's 2A state champs, will get a chance to answer those critics Saturday at 7 p.m. when they host Sheridan of the West Valley League at The Pavilion in a first-round playoff game.

"The one thing people and other coaches have been saying is that we're not battle tested," said Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse. "A lot of teams think we're not half as good as last year because we lost all those key seniors. But other guys have stepped up.

"I tell the guys what everyone is saying and I'm asking them, 'Are we up to the challenge?' I think we are. We have a pretty good team."

A win Saturday and the Challengers will make their first-ever trip to the eight-team 3A state tournament held at Willamette University in Salem starting next Thursday.

In other state-playoff games involving local squads, the St. Mary's boys begin the 2A state playoffs with a home game against North Douglas on Saturday at 7 p.m., while the Crusader girls host De La Salle North Catholic of Portland tonight at 6:30. At the 1A level, the Rogue Valley Adventist boys kick off their first-ever run in the postseason with a game against North Clackamas Christian of Portland on Saturday at Ashland High School at 7:15 p.m.

Cascade Christian heads into its contest riding a school-record 14-game winning streak, which included an unbeaten run through the Sunset League. The 25 wins are also a school record, equaling last year's 2A championship team that finished 25-4.

During the current 12-game streak through league play, the Challengers have won by an average of 29 points per outing.

That could be where the battle-tested question comes from, Morse said.

"Last year we had to battle Bonanza and St. Mary's," the coach said. "This year it wasn't like that. We really haven't played anybody of (Sheridan's) caliber since the Crater game (a 57-46 Challenger win on Jan. 4)."

Despite losing senior starters Josh Heidegger, Daniel Shipley and Andrew Shipley, the Challengers haven't had much trouble adjusting to life at the 3A level.

This season, Cascade Christian has built its attack around the play of athletic big men Scott Morse, a 6-foot-6 junior, and Jeremy Cheney (6-5 senior).

Morse, Brian Morse's son, averages 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and five steals per game. Cheney has also put up big numbers, scoring 18.1 per contest and hauling in eight boards a game.

"We've built around Scott and Jeremy a lot," said Brian Morse, "but the other guys have stepped up, too."

Sophomore Ben Joffer and junior Jarrod Hess, who missed last year with an ACL injury, have provided big minutes on both ends of the court at guard positions, while junior Daniel Kinney has teamed with Joffer to form a potent defensive backcourt against strong perimeter foes.

That could come in handy against Sheridan (18-10).

The Spartans, who hail from a league that boasts four of the state's top 10 teams, are led by senior 6-5 post Michael Orosco and 6-2 senior point guard Zach Poisal.

Sheridan lost West Valley League playoff games to Horizon Christian and Amity last weekend to drop to the fourth seed. Poisal, however, poured in 36 of his team's 58 points in the narrow loss to Amity.

"He's a very good player," coach Morse said of Poisal, a first-team all-league competitor. "He hits 3s and he penetrates and dishes. It'll be a good challenge for us."

"But they don't have a lot of height," added Brian Morse. "We definitely have a size advantage and I think a quickness advantage.

"They do have good 3-point shooters. You can tell, when they're on they're tough to beat."

NORTH DOUGLAS AT ST. MARY'S — St. Mary's will have its hands full Saturday with North Douglas, the third seed from the Mountain View Conference.

North Douglas was the top-rated team in 2A earlier this season, and the Warriors own wins over Cascade Christian and Oakland, now the state's No. 1 squad.

"We don't really match up well with them at all," said Crusaders' coach Rick Jackson.

North Douglas (21-6) has lost four of its last six games, but still possesses one of the state's top 2A players in 6-3 guard Dustin Andes.

"He is very, very good," said Jackson. "I'd say he is arguably one of the top three players in the state in 2A."

The Crusaders, the No. 2 team from the Southern Cascade League, advanced to the state championship game last season.

This year, however, St. Mary's will have to battle through North Douglas and a pair of injuries to return to the tournament in Pendleton.

Senior guard Max O'Sullivan, the team's lone returning starter from a year ago, injured his knee two games ago and has been out since. Also, starting sophomore post Lou Gambee missed two of the last three games because of a severe ankle sprain.

Gambee will be back but O'Sullivan is a game-time decision.

"We could be in a little bit of trouble," said Jackson. "But on the other hand, we are playing pretty well right now and they've been having their struggles late in the season. I certainly give us a chance, no question."

NORTH CLACKAMAS CHRISTIAN AT ROGUE VALLEY ADVENTIST — Rogue Valley Adventist has plenty of motivation when it hosts its first-ever state-playoff game.

But the Red Tail Hawks (16-6), the top seed from the Mountain Valley League, will have their work cut out for them against the Valley 10 League-champion team from Portland.

Seventh-ranked North Clackamas Christian (21-6) has won 10 of its last 12 contests, while Rogue Valley Adventist won six of its last seven games, including two in the district tournament to lock up the MVL's top seed.

The Hawks are led by starters Caleb Fjarli, Ryan Pool, Tyler Robertson, Ryan Coggins and Robert Denton.

The winner advances to the eight-team 1A tournament in Baker City starting next Thursday.

Girls

DE LA SALLE NORTH CATHOLIC AT ST. MARY'S — St. Mary's walks into fairly uncharted territory tonight at its own gym.

On Tuesday, the eighth-ranked Crusaders (20-4) wrapped up the Southern Cascade League championship, their first league title in 24 years.

A win tonight and St. Mary's will qualify for the eight-team 2A state tournament in Pendleton, which runs Feb. 28-March 1.

"It's very exciting," said St. Mary's coach Tim Pflug. "I would say the girls are probably a little bit nervous for the game, which they should be. That's normal."

No. 7-ranked De La Salle North Catholic (18-6), the third seed from the Northwest League, boasts two all-Northwest League first-teamers in Mia Robinson and Marchae Fesser.

"I know they're athletic and pretty tall," said Pflug. "What they do is play more of an NBA style."

St. Mary's, meanwhile, will throw a balanced scoring lineup at the Knights.

"I've had probably five different girls lead us this year," Pflug said. "That's probably one of our strengths because that fact is you can't shut just one person down."

Both teams average around 50 points per contest while giving up about 36 a game.

"I have a funny feeling that the team that stays together, makes free throws and rebounds will do well," Pflug said. "We are looking forward to this opportunity."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com