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Bittle, Crater dominate to reach 5A state tourney

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CENTRAL POINT — Once the Crater boys basketball team got rolling Friday night, there simply was no stopping the Comets as they left visiting Putnam in their wake, 67-42, in as promising of a send-off to the Class 5A state tournament as any team could envision.

Standout sophomore Nate Bittle anchored Crater’s effort from the start, finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocked shots to thoroughly dominate the state playoff opener.

“Nate was engaged and he was focused,” said Comets head coach Chris Schmerbach, whose team is seeded sixth despite finishing fourth in the Midwestern League. “That’s kind of the expectation we have for him, and it can be unfair sometimes because he’s 15 and the kid’s got a lot of pressure and lot of things going around in his world, but you can kind of see there’s a level there that’s going to be pretty darn special really, really soon. Every day he takes a step in the right direction.”

The 6-foot-10 Bittle, a five-star recruit ranked 15th overall in the Class of 2021 by ESPN and Rivals, went off the glass from teammate Hunter Chubb for a dunk just 3 1/2 minutes into the contest and never relented to help set an ominous tone for Putnam.

“We were very intimidated from the beginning,” said Kingsmen head coach Gregg Griffin, whose 11th-seeded team finished fourth in the Northwest Oregon Conference. “We didn’t play like ourselves at all.”

“I think our kids got a little gun-shy and were concerned about missing shots,” he added. “We haven’t really done that all year but it was a different situation for them.”

Putnam scored its first field goal with 1 1/2 minutes remaining in the first quarter and was only 4-for-24 from the field in the first half to fall behind 31-12 at the break.

“The game plan coming in was to push the ball, get open shots and stop their 3-point shooting, and that’s what we did,” said Bittle.

With the win, Crater (17-8) advanced to the state tourney for the second straight year and will open at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis. The Comets will face either No. 3 Silverton or No. 14 Springfield, who are slated to play Saturday.

“It’s a good feeling,” Bittle said of returning to the final site. “I hope this year we come back with something more valuable than fifth place, so we’re looking forward to it.”

By using an active zone defense and sharing the ball, the Comets seemed at their best Friday against a Kingsmen crew that simply couldn’t keep up. Chubb contributed 11 points and three assists, while junior Kruger Edwards added 10 points and senior Nathan Horton had nine points and six rebounds.

“This week we talked a lot about moving the ball and trying to get a great shot every possession,” said Schmerbach, “and for the most part throughout the whole game we did a really good job of that. Once we figured out how and where we wanted to attack the zone, it didn’t matter what defense they were running, we seemed to just find the open guy. When we play like that we’re really good.”

Junior point guard Jayden Vranes added six assists and four rebounds, and sophomore Blake Eaton had five points off the bench for the Comets.

Senior Ruben Onishchenko scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half for Putnam.

After scoring only four points in the first quarter, Bittle caught fire with 12 in the second quarter and finished with eight in the fourth quarter before his exit. In each quarter, however, Bittle provided something on each end of the floor, be it blocking or altering shots or setting up his teammates for their own baskets.

“Nate was really patient tonight, he didn’t come out and force anything,” said Schmerbach. “He let the game come to him and when it did come to him, he just kind of took over. That’s what you want your guys to be able to do.”

Now it’s a matter of taking that next step.

Schmerbach certainly liked the direction his team was moving Friday.

“I’m just really proud of our guys in the resilience they’ve had this year with all the adversity we’ve had with injuries and growing-up type of stuff,” said the coach. “I’m just really proud to see them put it all together at the right time.”

“We’ve been searching for consistency on both ends this year, and with youth you kind of have some of that,” he added. “But tonight, that’s just as consistent as we need to play and if we can continue to build on that and push it forward we can make a nice run moving forward.”

PUTNAM (42): Onishchenko 23, Miller 8, Junta 3, Halladin 3, Washington 3, Ferguson 2, Ruffo 0, Douangphrachanh 0, Kenion 0, Helgerson 0, Keel 0, Colasuonno 0. Totals: 14-48 7-7 42.

CRATER (67): Bittle 26, Chubb 11, Edwards 10, Horton 9, Eaton 5, Vranes 2, Johnson 2, Jaasko 2, Ray 0, Dance 0, Fliegel 0, Noble 0. Totals: 25-42 11-18 67.

Putnam2101515— 42

Crater13182016— 67

3-point goals — Putnam 7 (Onishchenko 4, Halladin 1, Junta 1, Washington 1), Crater 6 (Bittle 2, Horton 2, Chubb 1, Eaton 1). Fouled out — Miller.

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

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater’s Jayden Vranes drives to the hoop in the 2nd quarter.
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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater’s Nate Bittle drives to the hoop in the 2nd quarter.
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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater’s Kruger Edwards blocks the shot of Putman’ Ruben Onishchenko in the 3rd quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater's Jayden Vranes splits the defense for a layup during Friday's playoff win over Putnam.
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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater's Hunter Chubb runs down the basketball against Putnam.