It was a style of game Cascade Christian boys basketball coach Brian Morse said his team needed.

It was a style of game Cascade Christian boys basketball coach Brian Morse said his team needed.

Not for his own health reasons, obviously, but to test the mental makeup of his squad.

The Challengers tussled back and forth with Class 3A first-round state-playoff opponent Sheridan for much of Saturday night until finally putting the Spartans away in a gut-wrenching 52-44 victory in front of a packed house at The Pavilion.

The victory earned Cascade Christian (26-2) its 15th straight win and, more importantly, a berth to the eight-team 3A state tournament at Willamette University in Salem. The Sunset League-champion and last year's 2A state-champion Challengers will open with Harrisburg on Thursday in a quarterfinal contest.

"We're very excited to go back," said coach Morse. "Once you win a state championship it makes you hungry and a little greedy. You want to win one again.

"All the guys wanted to get back (to the state tournament)."

Getting there did not come easy.

In fact, the Challengers trailed for most of the contest until a 13-5 spurt over the final three minutes put the game in Cascade Christian's corner.

Senior 6-foot-5 forward Jeremy Cheney gave Cascade Christian only its second lead since the first quarter with a jumper to break a 39-all tie with 2:48 to play.

Jarrod Hess followed with another bucket and two free throws over the next 11/2 minutes to extend the lead.

Sheridan (18-11), the third seed from the West Valley League, would not get closer than five points the rest of the way.

"This is exactly the type of game we wanted to test the guys," said Morse. "It's a good test to have a close game like this."

Cheney led the Challengers with 17 points to go with seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Junior 6-6 wing Scott Morse added 12 points, nine rebounds and five steals and sophomore guard Ben Joffer contributed 10 points.

A halftime adjustment helped the Challengers turn the 25-19 deficit at intermission into a win.

"We went to a full-court press and put more pressure on the ball to create turnovers," said Cheney.

Joffer, along with junior guard Daniel Kinney coming off the bench, harrassed Sheridan into multiple turnovers in the second half that keyed the comeback.

"I was trying to get everybody fired up," said Joffer. "We wanted to play our hearts out and not have any regrets."

The defense made up for a tough shooting night for Cascade Christian.

The Challengers made just 7 of 28 from the field in the first half and 17 of 53 for the game, including 3 for 20 from 3-point land against zone and triangle-and-two defenses the Spartans applied.

"We normally like to work inside out," said Cheney. "Tonight I think we were a little excited so we were taking a lot of outside shots."

"We knew they'd have a problem with our size," added coach Morse. "The emphasis (in the second half) was attack inside and pressure fullcourt. We did a much better job of that in the second half."

Sheridan, located just west of Salem, was led by Niko Rentsch's 11 points.

Cascade Christian's next opponent, fifth-ranked Harrisburg, defeated Oregon Episcopal 57-42 on Saturday.

"That should be a great challenge," said Brian Morse of Harrisburg. "From Day 1, getting back to the tournament was our goal. We're very excited about the opportunity."

SHERIDAN (44) — Poisal 9, Lux 6, Butler 2, Mount 0, Rentsch 11, Orosco 8, Hale-Edmerson 8, Ingram 0. Totals: 14 13-17 44.

CASCADE CHRISTIAN (52) — Morse 12, Cheney 17, Duchien 0, Hess 9, Kinney 4, Joffer 10, Ayala 0, Cochran 0. Totals: 17 15-26 52.

Sheridan 13 12 5 14 —44

Cascade Christian 7 12 11 22 —52

3-point goals — Sheridan 3 (Lux 2, Poisal 1), Cascade Christian 3 (Cheney 1, Morse 1, Hess 1).

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