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Challengers back in tournament

Cascade Christian couldn't shake resilient Harrisburg with a Class 3A state tournament berth at stake Friday at The Pavilion.

That is, until Jarrod Hess delivered the knockout blow in the final 36 seconds of the state playoff game.

The senior guard scored the final four points to seal a 33-28 victory over the Eagles and send the Challengers back to a state tournament for the third straight year.

The Challengers won the Class 2A state tournament in 2007, then lost in the 3A semifinals last year.

The No. 2-ranked Challengers (22-3) advance to a 3:15 p.m. tournament game March 4 at Willamette University in Salem. Their quarterfinal-round opponent will be the winner of the Vale-Ranier game today.

"We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game," said Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse. "They played great defense. Thank goodness they weren't hitting their shots either."

The Challengers were clinging to a 29-28 lead when Ben Joffer missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:07 remaining in the game. After a mad scramble for the rebound, the Eagles ended up with the ball. But on the Harrisburg possession, PacWest Conference player of the year Jordan Buhler was called for a walk when pressured near the free-throw line.

After the turnover, senior forward Scott Morse received the inbounds pass for the Challengers, dribbled past several Eagle defenders and dished off to Dustin Hutley. When the Eagle defense collapsed on Hutley, the 6-foot-4 senior post found Hess open for a layup that gave the Challengers a 31-28 lead with 36 seconds left.

Harrisburg had one last chance to knot the score, but senior guard Justin Smucker, who tallied a game-high 17 points, was forced into a walk before launching a potential game-tying shot.

Hess was quickly fouled and he made both ends of the one-and-one to clinch the victory.

"I was focused on hitting the first free throw because that's what really counted," said Hess. "I haven't been the best free-throw shooter the whole year."

Fourth-ranked Harrisburg (21-5), the No. 3 seed from the PacWest, stymied the Challengers early with a match-up zone.

Cascade scored a season-low two points in the opening quarter, but trailed by just four.

"We were disguising our defenses," said Harrisburg third-year coach Terry Crabb. "We wanted to do that because the penetration dribble they have in their offense is scary. We didn't play as effectively as we could but we played as hard as we could."

Harrisburg had some familiarity with the Challengers after losing to them 41-32 in last year's state quarterfinals.

Cascade Christian got untracked in the second quarter, outscoring the Eagles 13-8.

"The key was our defense got us going in the second quarter," said coach Morse. "We scored on four of five possessions. That gave us some momentum. Every time we got a lead, it seemed like Smucker hit a big shot."

Smucker connected on two of his three treys and scored all eight Eagle points in second period.

Smucker's final 3-pointer — a high-arching shot from about six feet behind the line — gave Harrisburg its last lead of the game, 17-16 with 5:45 remaining in the third.

The Challengers answered with a four-point run, but a 3-pointer by the 6-4 senior Buhler pulled the Eagles even at 20-all at the 3:22 mark.

Cascade Christian scored on consecutive baskets by Joffer and Scott Morse and was never tied or behind again.

"We put so much pressure on Buhler and Smucker, it forced them so far out from the basket," said coach Morse. "We shot poorly, but our defense kept us in the game."

The Challengers shot 39 percent from the field (14-for-36) but outrebounded the Eagles, 26-16. The Challengers had 10 offensive rebounds.

Hutley grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.

"Hutley was a beast on the boards," said Brian Morse. "We crashed the offensive boards hard an got two or three looks, which we converted on some."

Scott Morse and Hess each had eight points to lead the Challengers. Morse also contributed six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.

But more importantly, a tenacious defensive effort by the 6-7 all-state Morse limited Buhler to just seven points.

"They played tough man-to-man defense and didn't give us many opportunities," said Crabb. "Scott (Morse) just stuck Buhler. He did an impressive job guarding Jordan tonight."

And the Challengers produced just enough offense to earn a repeat trip to the 3A state tournament.

HARRISBURG (28) — Buhler 7, Strutz 0, Smucker 17, B. Richardson 4, Wilson 0, Thiesfeld 0. Totals: 11 2-2 28.

CASCADE CHRISTIAN (33) — Morse 8, Hutley 6, Hess 8, Litton 0, Hoffman 3, Joffer 4, Pech 0, Cochran 4. 14 4-9 33.

Harrisburg 6 8 8 6 — 28

Cascade Christian 2 13 9 9 — 33

3-point goals — Harrisburg 4 (Smucker 3, Buhler 1), Cascade Christian 1 (Hoffman 1).

Cascade Christian's Scott Morse, left, battles for the ball with Harrisburg's Justin Smucker during Friday's game.