CORVALLIS — When it came to playing Thurston, the third time was a major drag for the Crater Comets.
After suffering two hard-fought losses to the Comets during the Midwestern League regular season, the Colts exacted their revenge in the most meaningful game of the season Thursday, beating Crater 71-57 in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The loss cut short Crater’s championship hopes but did not completely squash its chances at making team history. One year after the Comets (24-2) finished tied for sixth in the MWL and missed the playoffs altogether, they can capture the program’s biggest trophy ever by beating Churchill in the third-place game today.
Two-time defending state champion Wilsonville trounced Churchill, 58-43, in the other semifinal.
“It’s gonna be an enormous challenge for our team,” Comets coach Chris Schmerbach said. “We’re going to check our resiliency and our ability to bounce back. This one’s gonna hurt for a little bit.”
About two weeks after Crater beat Thurston 63-56 to clinch a regular-season series sweep, it was the Colts who played with confidence and poise.
The Colts outscored Crater 17-11 in the opening quarter to take charge early, blew the doors open with a 13-2 run in the third and never let Crater get closer than nine in the final period.
Kiefer Edwards did his best to help the Comets stay close, going off for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, and Nathan Bittle added 12 points and four blocks, but the Comets couldn’t come close to overcoming a fired-up Thurston defense and a horrid shooting performance from the field.
The Comets shot 37 percent (19-for-52), including 3-for-17 from the 3-point line.
“You’ve got to credit Thurston,” Schmerbach said. “They’re an excellent team and very well-coached. They came out and played better than we did tonight. So hat’s off to them.”
“They were able to pressure us into some early turnovers and that got us on our heels,” he added. “They did a great job defending the pick-and-roll, which is something we’ve used to ignite our offense. Their pressure kept us from moving the basketball and making extra passes and making them work on defense.”
Jesse Connor scored 18 points and Sterling Minor 17 to lead a balanced Thurston attack. The Colts shot 52 percent from the field, including 59 percent (13-for-22) in the second half against a Crater team that made life miserable for opposing offenses all season.
Already up 11 entering the fourth, Thurston got back-to-back layups by Ethan Powell and Tyson Haas to make it a 15-point game with 7:27 left. Crater got back within nine points on a bucket by Edwards with 5:01 to go, but Thurston answered, as it did all night, with execution, precision and eventually two points — in that case, via two free throws by Connor.
The game got away from Crater late in the third, when the Colts outscored the Comets 13-2 in a four-minute stretch that increased a four-point lead to 15, capping the run with a layup by Mason Miller (13 points, 10 rebounds) with 3:14 to go.
Isaac Lange swished a pull-up 3 with 5:45 to go in the third to give the Colts their biggest lead of the game up to that point, 38-27. Edwards rebounded his own miss on Crater’s next possession to end a two-minute drought.
A circus layup by Sterling Minor gave the Colts an eight-point lead with 37 seconds left in the first half and it looked like it would stay that way after Thurston trapped Crater guard Jayden Vranes, but the sophomore knifed through the Colts’ defense and scooped it in to cut Thurston’s lead to 31-25 only seconds before the halftime buzzer.
Vranes finished with four points and eight rebounds.
Vranes’ heads-up finish was one of the few highlights in an otherwise forgettable first half for the Comets, who shot 37 percent and made only seven field goals (7-for-19) before intermission. Crater managed to stay in the game at the free-throw line, hitting 9 of 12.
Crater was sloppy early, turning the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes, with the last in that rough stretch leading to a breakaway layup that gave the Colts a 23-16 lead. Another steal and layup moments later by Thurston’s Haas, with 3:01 left in the half, gave the Colts a 25-17 lead and led to a Crater time-out.
Powell’s 3-pointers with 3:33 left in the first capped a quick 5-0 run that gave the Colts a 12-5 lead and led to a Comets’ timeout. The Colts eventually extended their lead to 15-5 before Mason Vranes drilled a deep 3 to end Crater’s three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought.
“We haven’t had a lot of nights where we haven’t shot the ball really well, and against a really good team like Thurston it’s hard to recover,” Schmerbach said. “Our defense has saved us a lot of times when we haven’t scored the ball. I felt like it did that early, but in the second half, their pressure was able to wear us down.”
THURSTON (71): Jesse Connor 5-9 8-10 18; Sterling Minor 7-12 3-4 17; Isaac Lange 6-12 3-4 16; Mason Miller 5-8 3-8 13; Tyson Haas 2-4 0-0 4; Ethan Powell 1-4 0-0 3; Isaac Edmison 0-0 0-0 0; Cade Crist 0-1 0-1 0; Hunter Harrison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-50 17-27 71.
CRATER (57): Kiefer Edwards 6-19 11-12 23; Nathan Bittle 4-6 3-4 12; Mason Vranes 4-6 1-2 11; Cade Weaver 2-6 1-1 5; Jayden Vranes 2-10 0-0 4; Nate Johnson 1-1 0-0 2; Christophe Stollings 0-0 0-0 0; Kruger Edwards 0-0 0-0 0; Blake Hollingsworth 0-0 0-0 0; Julian Archer 0-0 0-0 0; Nate Horton 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 16-19 57.
3-point goals — Thurston 2-6 (Ethan Powell 1-2; Isaac Lange 1-2; Jesse Connor 0-2); Crater 3-17 (Mason Vranes 2-3; Nathan Bittle 1-3; Jayden Vranes 0-1; Nate Horton 0-3; Cade Weaver 0-2; Kiefer Edwards 0-5). Fouled out — Thurston: Ethan Powell; Crater: Cade Weaver. Rebounds — Thurston 35 (Mason Miller 10), Crater 31 (Kiefer Edwards 12). Assists — Thurston 12 (Jesse Connor 4), Crater 9 (Jayden Vranes 4). Total fouls — Thurston 19, Crater 17. Technical fouls — None. A — 1,418.