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St. Mary’s, Cascade Christian meet with state berth at stake

It took the St. Mary’s boys basketball program a span of nine years between victories over Class 3A rival Cascade Christian.

Crusaders head coach Eric Guyer is hopeful that timeframe can be cut considerably when his team heads across Medford to play a must-win Southern Cascade League playoff against the Challengers at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Cascade Christian High.

St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian split the season series this year — with the Crusaders earning their first win over the Challengers since Jan. 10, 2006 — and their third meeting carries state-playoff ramifications. The winner advances to a game at Rogue River on Saturday to determine the SCL’s No. 1 seed, while the loser is eliminated from playoff contention.

“With a cross-town rival and playoff berth on the line for us ... other than hosting it, this is everything you want in a big game,” Guyer said prior to Monday’s practice.

“We’re similar teams in that both try to lock up defensively,” he added, “so it should be a dogfight and a really fun environment to be in.”

St. Mary’s, Cascade Christian and Rogue River tied for the SCL title with 6-2 league marks. By Azzie tiebreaker, Rogue River (15-8) earned a bye and the right to host Saturday’s contest while the Challengers (15-10) nabbed the No. 2 spot and right to host and St. Mary’s (16-7) had to settle for No. 3.

“It’s bringing back all those memories of the fierce rivalry and good competition in league from years ago,” said Cascade Christian head coach Brian Morse of Wednesday’s matchup. “It brings a lot of energy to you and your whole program because it’s exciting stuff.”

The last time these two teams met with such fanfare was in 2007, when Cascade Christian beat St. Mary’s for a third time that season in the 2A state championship game.

For the Challengers, the program’s rich history is a big factor heading into the league playoff. Cascade Christian has won its league’s end-of-season tournament for nine straight years and hasn’t missed out on the state playoffs since 2005.

“Part of what we talked about tonight at practice was just that,” Morse said of his team’s streak. “Is this the year we’re going to give that up or fight through and win the first game against St.

Mary’s to give ourselves another chance. The guys know what’s at stake and they don’t want to be the team that loses it.”

How much of a home-court factor there is remains to be seen between St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian. Each game came down to the wire, with St. Mary’s rallying from a double-digit deficit in a 63-58 home triumph on Jan. 23 and Cascade Christian again squandering a double-digit lead in the rematch before securing a 47-44 win last Tuesday.

“We’ve definitely given the fans their money’s worth in the first two games as far as exciting games to the end,” added Guyer, “so I’m sure this one will only be more of the same.”

St. Mary’s hasn’t fared well in recent league playoffs featuring the Nos. 2-3 seeds, losing to Lakeview in each of the past two seasons to fall short of the state playoffs. The Crusaders haven’t advanced to the state playoffs since their 2A days in 2010, which was also the last time they won a share of a league title.

“It really meant a lot,” Guyer said of St. Mary’s breaking through to share the 2015 league title. “These kids have devoted so much of their lives to basketball so being able to get a piece of that means a lot to them.”

Having beaten the Challengers once already this season definitely helps an already confident bunch of Crusaders who, according to Guyer, truly believe they can play with anyone in the state.

“I think that first win was a big step for the kids,” he said, “but they’re pretty confident no matter who it is. We have a healthy respect for Cascade but, with this team, we’ve played with a lot of good teams this year and they expect to compete every time.”

Michael Crennen, a 6-foot-5 center, and fellow junior Connor Vinyard, a 6-4 forward, combined for 55 of St. Mary’s 63 points in the first matchup and routinely came up big when the Crusaders needed it most.

In the second game, Crennen managed 17 points but Vinyard was held to eight by the Challengers to keep St. Mary’s at bay.

“Vinyard is such a great outside shooter and has such good touch that if he’s open, he’s going to bury the shot,” said Morse. “We’ve just got to try to limit his uncontested shots. That was a big adjustment we made in the last game. We have to continue to focus on that but Crennen is the beast in the middle and is one tough player to stop in his own right. We’re going to have to do a great job of trying to contest his shots as well and keep him off the boards because he can hurt you there, too.”

Cascade Christian has been a little more balanced throughout the season and the same scenario played out against the Crusaders. Jason Wyncoop, a 6-5 senior wing, had 12 points — including a go-ahead basket — in last week’s meeting to complement 11 points by Chase Wager and another eight by Carson Cochran.

In the first game, Christian Kammerzell led the way with 16 points while Wyncoop had 14 and Parker Horton added 13, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 58-all before St. Mary’s went on a 5-0 run to close it out.

“Cascade defends so well,” said Guyer, “we’ve got to be able to execute and maintain possession, that’s one of the keys for us. You know they’re going to come at you 32 minutes strong so you can’t really let up and you’ve got to be ready to answer that challenge.”

“When we’ve struggled,” he added, “it’s been because we’ve come out of the gate slow so that will be important for us to get off to a good start.”

Besides continuing to get good play from X factors off the bench like Wager and Horton, Morse said another key will be in the ability of 6-2 junior Brandon Winter to avoid foul troubles that have hindered him in the previous meetings. Winter is the Challengers’ second-leading scorer but had only two points in the first game and six in the second.

However it pans out, Morse said he’s just excited about the SCL’s prospects moving forward.

“I really think any two of these three (SCL) teams can go on and make it to the final eight (state tournament),” said Morse. “I’ve seen the other teams up north and I really do feel like our league is going to be well-represented no matter who advances, so that’s exciting.”

TRACK AND FIELD SEASON is fast approaching, so now’s probably not the best time to be trying to fill a coaching vacancy, but that’s exactly the situation at South Medford.

The Panthers posted the void in the middle of last week and, as of the weekend, hadn’t found a replacement in short order for departing head coach Mark Losinski, whom South athletic director Dennis Murphy said resigned for personal reasons.

Murphy said last Wednesday he was confident the school will be able to find a capable track and field coach prior to the start of the season, with the search likely looking within at first to make as seamless of a transition as possible.

March 2 is the official first practice date for spring sports.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry