The lessons learned through a challenging time in December have paid off for the St. Mary’s boys basketball team since the calendar turned to 2017, and nowhere was that more evident than in the Crusaders’ gym Tuesday night.
St. Mary’s found itself down six points entering the final quarter in a Southern Cascade League playoff game against Lakeview but found the resolve to turn things around for a 43-42 win to secure a berth in the Class 3A state playoffs.
The Crusaders outscored Lakeview 9-2 over the final five minutes of the fourth quarter on key inside scoring by Bryce Bramscher and Travis Danielson and a pair of clutch free throws by Gavin Rajagopal that forged the final outcome.
“I think one of the things we’ve done here since January is we’ve learned how to win games and learned how to close,” said first-year St. Mary’s head coach Tam Vu. “That’s something we didn’t know how to do in December and we’ve figured that part of it out, and it really came to light today again for us.”
For their efforts, the Crusaders (12-11) will square off against crosstown rival Cascade Christian (21-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday to determine the SCL’s Nos. 1 and 2 seeds to the state playoffs. The fourth-ranked Challengers routed St. Mary’s 65-29 when the teams last met at Cascade Christian on Jan. 7 and then won the rematch 54-49 in overtime on Jan. 27.
“Going over to Cascade, we’ve got some bad memories of early January,” said Vu. “We talked about it as a group just now that we’ve got to prepare in these next three days to go over there because they’re going to be guns a blazing and we’re going to try to take it to them.”
While the pressure may be off since a playoff berth isn’t at stake as it was Tuesday, the Crusaders definitely won’t be taking it easy Saturday.
“I think our goal is still to win the league tournament,” said Vu. “It is nice to have a state playoff spot secured but we sure would like to have a home playoff spot.”
As happens when teams meet for a third time, offensive execution in the first half of Tuesday’s game was slowed by defenses familiar with tendencies. Even when shots went up, most didn’t go in and there were very few second opportunities as St. Mary’s limped into halftime with a 15-14 edge over the visiting Honkers (9-15). St. Mary’s was 7-for-29 from the field in the first half and Lakeview 6-for-17.
“When you play a team three times, you kind of know what they’re going to do so you can take some stuff away,” said Lakeview head coach Dylan Sullivan. “They took some stuff away from us in the first half and we kind of did the same thing and it kind of went back and forth like that.”
The second half proved to be a much different scenario, with each team executing at a higher rate on offense until Lakeview used an 8-4 surge in the final two minutes to build a 38-32 cushion entering the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know what we were expecting here but we were definitely flat early on,” said Vu. “I think overall that third quarter was a wake-up call. We shouldn’t have needed it but it definitely was and we were able to respond.”
In the third quarter, however, 6-foot-3 senior Travis Danielson provided a huge boost by aggressively getting to the basket for seven of his team-high 11 points.
“Travis came up huge in the third and fourth quarters taking the ball to the hole and giving us some energy when we needed it,” said Vu. “We were really stagnant on offense a little bit — I think they did a good job preparing for what they’ve seen from us this year — and we didn’t respond that well early on but we figured it out in the fourth quarter.”
The Crusaders also had two energizing 3-pointers by Gabriel Mayer off the bench in the third to help keep pace with Lakeview, which saw standout freshman Jalen Lampman net nine of his 11 points and senior Derrick Dunn score eight of his game-high 15 points.
In the final frame, St. Mary’s dialed up the defense as Joe Johnson and Mayer came up with steals and Bramscher had two blocks to keep Lakeview from extending its lead. Bramscher scored inside and converted a three-point play to give his team hope with 3:10 to play down only 42-39 and, after the second missed free throw in the fourth on the front end of a one-and-one by the Honkers, Danielson powered a basket home off an assist by Johnson.
Lampman then drove hard into Danielson, who held his ground and blocked the shot to give St. Mary’s a chance at taking the lead. On the opposite end, Rajagopal was fouled on a drive and calmly converted both ends of his one-and-one for a 43-42 lead with 1:17 to play.
“Those were huge free throws,” said Vu. “Gavin has consistently been our best free throw shooter and that was big for us.”
Lakeview had two shots to regain the lead but couldn’t hit the spot as Rajagopal pulled in a necessary rebound. Johnson was then fouled with 10.1 seconds left but missed both free throws, giving the Honkers one last gasp. After advancing the ball to halfcourt for a quick timeout, Lakeview had 2.9 seconds left to get off a potential game-winner but Mayer hounded Lampman and the inbounds pass glanced off his arms and out of bounds to give the ball back to St. Mary’s.
Danielson finished with six rebounds to go with his 11 points, while Mayer added 10 points, four rebounds and two steals off the bench. Rajagopal had seven points and four steals, Bramscher seven points, five rebounds and two blocks and Johnson six points, three assists and two steals.
Justin Silsbee also managed five rebounds and two steals while working hard for St. Mary’s to quiet Lampman with steady defensive pressure.
LAKEVIEW (42): Dunn 15, Lampman 11, Maita 5, Decker 4, Brazeal 3, Shullanberger 2, Arcularius 2. Totals: 16-38 8-12 42.
ST. MARY’S (43): Danielson 11, Mayer 10, Rajagopal 7, Bramscher 7, Johnson 6, Bowling 2, Silsbee 0, Dexter 0. Totals: 17-56 6-11 43.
3-point goals — Lakeview 2-11 (Lampman 2), St. Mary’s 3-19 (Mayer 2, Rajagopal 1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry