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Down to the wire

Baskets were hard to come by Friday night as host Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s waged a tug-of-war battle that came down to the wire in Southern Cascade League boys basketball action.

After failing to secure a little cushion with five missed free throws in the final 93 seconds, the Challengers won a 39-37 nailbiter on the defensive end by coming up with enough pressure to thwart two Crusader shots in the last nine seconds for a triumph in the crosstown rivalry.

“Both teams played great defense and it came down to that,” said Cascade Christian head coach Brian Morse. “We just had to have one big stop at the end there and we got it. Both teams really grinded it down tonight on defense and it was so tough to score.”

Cascade Christian junior post Carson Cochran scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to go with nine rebounds and two blocks, and teammate Trenton Palmer added 11 points. St. Mary’s got 11 points apiece from Tyler West and Michael Crennen, who also pulled in seven boards.

The two Class 3A teams in Medford entered the contest tied atop the SCL after sharing the league crown with Rogue River one year ago, so it was fitting Friday’s tilt came down to a last shot ... or two.

With nine seconds to play, St. Mary’s (11-6, 2-1 SCL) turned to senior playmaker West, who already boasts game-winning shots against Rogue River this season and the last, but his driving effort missed the mark. Senior forward Connor Vinyard carved his way into the lane for the rebound but his putback also was off target and the Challengers (13-4, 3-0) eventually spirited the ball upcourt to close out a hard-fought contest.

“We got two really good looks,” said St. Mary’s head coach Greg Conway. “Tyler West took it in and got a nice look and almost hit it and Connor followed it up and almost got it … it’s just the ball wasn’t falling at that last part.”

“Cascade played a great game and had a great game plan and they hit shots when they needed to,” added Conway, who has taken over the Crusaders during this year’s medical leave for Eric Guyer. “We were right there, we just couldn’t get the ball to fall through.”

Neither team was able to gain much separation until St. Mary’s got a pair of driving baskets by West and shots by Crennen and Hunter Rothfus for a 28-20 lead midway through the third quarter.

The Crusaders’ chances of pulling away, however, were negated when Challengers senior Chad Morse answered with a 3-pointer to set off a 12-0 run to close the third quarter. Cochran was instrumental in that surge on both ends of the court, connecting on a 3-pointer and then a fadeaway to go with solid post defense on Crennen and a 1-for-2 effort from the free-throw line.

“We were looking for some big offensive spurt and he stepped up in a big way and gave us a huge lift in that third quarter,” said coach Morse. “The fadeaway? He was in the zone and all of a sudden he does that little stop and fadeaway and I’m like, ‘No!’ and it goes in. It was kind of like the old NBA Jam game: “He’s on fire!” So then it was like just keep feeding him the ball while he was hot.”

In fact, Cochran scored Cascade Christian’s final 13 points of the game as he picked up where he left off in the fourth quarter with a pair of inside baskets and a three-point play that put his team up 39-35 with 4:13 to go.

“Once I started taking the ball to the basket it worked so I just tried to keep doing it,” said Cochran, a 6-foot-4 forward, “and if I didn’t have it then I’d just dish it out to my teammates.”

Vinyard and Crennen combined for seven points to offset Cochran’s outburst in the opening half of the fourth quarter but St. Mary’s could never quite get over the hump despite several opportunities. The Crusaders forced two turnovers and one missed shot over the next few possessions but could not convert on the other end against the Challenger defense, which included a hustling effort by Cochran and senior teammate Brandon Winter to force a jump ball and change of possession on a steal and breakaway by Rothfus.

Cascade Christian was put in the bonus with 1:33 to play but Winter missed the front end of his one-and-one and hard work inside put Crennen on the foul line, where he made both with 56 seconds left to make it a two-point game.

Another front-end miss by Palmer opened the door a little but Winter hustled for the rebound and was fouled in the process. Unfortunately, his front-end effort again missed the mark, only this time Cochran tracked it down to retain possession for Cascade. Another quick foul led to two shots for reserve Joel McLemore but when both were errant, it became nail-biting time for the Challengers facing a necessary defensive stand over the final 39 seconds.

“We always like to cut it close for some reason,” said Cochran, whose team has lost three games by three points or less this year. “We don’t usually pull out the close ones but tonight we did and it was nice against our rival.”

While missing out on a potential tying or go-ahead basket in the final 39 seconds proved costly for St. Mary’s, a four-minute scoring drought to close the third quarter certainly didn’t help matters.

“We had a few moments where we just didn’t execute very well and had a few turnovers and we just couldn’t get back over the hump,” said Conway. “But the boys played really hard the whole way — both teams did. It’s always a great game (against the Challengers) and it’s going to be a great game when we go back to our house (Feb. 9).”

Winter finished with nine rebounds and five points for Cascade Christian, while Vinyard grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his seven points and two block for St. Mary’s. Rothfus had six points and five rebounds, while four rebounds were pulled in by Eli Conway for St. Mary’s and Cascade’s Morse and Cole Hadley.

ST. MARY’S (37): West 11, Crennen 11, Vinyard 7, Rothfus 6, Conway 2, Yaeger 0, VanValkenburg 0, Sue 0, Wyant 0. Totals: 13-55 9-13 37.

CASCADE CHRISTIAN (39): Cochran 19, Palmer 11, Winter 5, Morse 4, Hadley 0, McLemore 0, Flores-Alatorre 0, Agnifili 0. Totals: 15-43 6-16 39.

St. Mary’s;9;11;8;9;—;37

Cascade Christian;12;6;14;7;—;39

3-point goals — St. Mary’s 2-11 (Crennen 2), Cascade Christian 3-12 (Palmer 1, Morse 1, Cochran 1).

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

Cascade Christian senior Carson Cochran shoots while surrounded by St. Mary's defenders, left to right, Kodiak Yaeger, Eli Conway and Chandler Sue at Cascade Christian High Friday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Cascade Christian senior Trenton Palmer (1) fights his way past St. Mary's defender Eli Conway during the Southern Cascade League matchup at Cascade Christian on Friday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.