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Senior Sensation

On the baseball diamond is where Jeremy Cheney's future may ultimately rest.

Being a rangy, 6-foot-5 pitcher with a blazing fastball will do that for you.

But there's something about this other sport that just won't leave the conscience of the Cascade Christian senior.

It seems Cheney has grown just as fond of basketball during his time with the Challengers.

Being a 6-5 forward with a silky smooth jump-shot and the wingspan of a 7-footer will do that for you.

Cheney's growth as a basketball player over the last two seasons has coincided with the rise of the Cascade Christian boys basketball team.

The soft-spoken Cheney, a first-team all-Sunset League competitor, has earned one state championship with the Challengers and he's hoping to be on the verge of another today as Cascade Christian enters the eight-team Class 3A state tournament at Willamette University.

The third-ranked Challengers, the Sunset League champions, open with Harrisburg, the second seed from the Pac West League, today at 1:30 p.m.

Cascade Christian, with Cheney in his first year as a starter, cruised to the 2A state championship last season.

A year later and despite playing up one classification, the Challengers are back in the tournament with designs of another top finish.

"I'm very excited for it," says Cheney of the tournament. "Going back to state's a little different this time because of moving up to 3A, but I'm ready to play."

Cheney and junior 6-6 wing Scott Morse have led the Challengers to a 26-2 mark heading into the state tournament.

The 26 wins is a school record and the current 15-game winning streak is also a top mark for the program.

"Once we started having open gyms over the summer I was like 'Wow, we still have a pretty good team this year,'" says Cheney. "We have worked really hard in practice to get to this point."

Cheney has been ready since first stepping into a starter's role last season.

He was one of two underclassmen ­— then-sophomore Morse being the other — that strolled out for the opening tip a year ago for the Challengers.

When those other three senior starters — Josh Heidegger and brothers Andrew and Daniel Shipley — departed, it was only natural that the weight of this season would fall on the shoulders of Cheney and Morse.

"We knew losing nine seniors and a lot of leadership that we would be looking towards them for that state championship experience," says Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse. "We knew we needed to build around them. They are the leaders offensively and defensively."

Cheney hasn't shied away from those roles.

"I had great examples following in the Shipleys and Heidegger's footsteps," says Cheney. "They really showed me, and I think Scott, how to be a leader and give the underclassmen some one to look up to."

Cheney has upped his per-game averages to 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks this season. He's also shooting 44 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

While his lengthy reach has always wreaked havoc on the defensive end, Cheney's offensive game didn't fully blossom until two seasons ago.

Over the summer extending from the end of his sophomore campaign into his junior season, Cheney hucked up jump shot after jump shot in the gym.

The result is a thing of beauty, admires Brian Morse.

"He was always known as a good defensive player in the seventh and eighth grade and his freshman year," says coach Morse. "He really worked hard to perfect that jump shot.

"In my opinion, he has the best-looking jump shot I've seen in 20 years of coaching."

Cheney can beat you with his quick jumper, which most defenders can't lay a hand on, but he can also worry opponents with his finishing skills around the hoop.

"I've been working on my shot since that summer," says Cheney. "I've really gotten comfortable with it now."

And collegiate coaches are starting to take notice.

Cheney has received interest from Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, Idaho, and other schools like George Fox and Linfield.

The two latter programs are mainly interested in Cheney's fastball, but Northwest Nazarene, where former South Medford standout Kendall Gielow attends, has offered up both basketball and baseball to Cheney.

"Growing up I've always played baseball and basketball," Cheney says. "It's been baseball that everyone's pretty much been interested in me playing. Right now I'm torn between both sports. I love them both and enjoy playing both of them.

"I'm hoping to have the opportunity to do both."

For right now, it's basketball and Harrisburg that has Cheney's attention.

The Eagles (22-4) will trot out 6-5 senior post Brody McGowan and sharp-shooting guards Justin Smucker and Jordan Buhler to go against the Challengers.

"McGowan, I believe, is the best post in the state," says coach Morse. "They have this three-tiered offense behind those three. And they play a good matchup zone. It will be a very good challenge for us."

Besides Cheney and Morse, who earned Sunset most valuable player honors after averaging over 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals a contest, Cascade Christian has plenty of other weapons in tow.

Guards Ben Joffer and Jarrod Hess and 6-7 post Justin Duchien fill out the starting lineup, while athletic guard Daniel Kinney and posts Jacob Ayala and Colton Cochran provide plenty of ammunition off the bench.

"I think we match up with them well with our size," says Brian Morse. "In my opinion, it should be a great game."

And a possible stepping stone towards another state title, which would be a perfect send-off for Cheney.

At least until baseball starts.

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

Jeremy Cheney is also a standout pitcher for the Cascade Christian baseball team.