Crater boys cruise to state berth
CENTRAL POINT — Consider it a testament to how good the third-seeded Crater boys basketball team is, but the Comets were never really challenged in their Class 5A state playoff opener Saturday and yet that still left them wanting more.
Playing for the right to reach the 5A state tournament for the third straight season, Crater shook off a slow start to put enough distance between itself and visiting La Salle Prep for a runaway, 57-30 triumph at Crater High.
After placing fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2018, the Comets (19-6) will open the state championships at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis against No. 6 seed South Albany (20-5). The RedHawks edged No. 11 Parkrose, 61-59, on Saturday.
Crater junior Nate Bittle was his steady self despite constant attention from the Falcons in posting 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks to lead the charge for the Comets, who opened a 12-0 lead through one quarter and went into halftime up 24-8.
“I feel like we could’ve played 10 times better than we did tonight,” said Bittle. “We have a couple guys still kind of sick here and there. We’ve just got to get over that, get in shape and be able to run teams up at Gill.”
Saturday’s game went scoreless for the first three minutes until a free throw by Bittle broke the ice, and then seniors Jayden Vranes and Kruger Edwards got involved to spur an 11-0 run to close the quarter in the final 31/2 minutes.
Vranes finished with 11 points, five assists and three rebounds, while Edwards had 14 points, four rebounds and two assists. Hunter Chubb added eight points and four boards for the Comets, who shot 45 percent from the field (23 of 51).
“There were a little start-of-the-game jitters,” said Crater head coach Chris Schmerbach, whose team is ranked No. 2 in the 5A coaches poll. “We missed five or six easy ones to start the game that we usually make. If a couple of those go through then momentum builds and it can easily turn into a different game.”
Vranes penetrated for a layup to start the run, Edwards rang up Crater’s first dunk and then the 6-foot-11 Bittle got involved with back-to-back dunks, the latter coming on a nice give-and-go lob from Vranes.
Edwards capped the quarter with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Comets into the second quarter on a high note.
“I think at the beginning of the game we were taking too many outside shots, honestly,” said Bittle. “I don’t think we got a layup until the sixth or seventh possession down. Everyone was just kind of shooting 3s or mid-range jump shots with no offensive rebounders, so that’s something we’ve got to fix when we go to Gill.”
One thing the Comets won’t have to tinker with very much is their defense.
With Bittle and Edwards actively blocking or altering shots, Crater was able to put 14th-seeded La Salle Prep (13-12) on its heels and create better opportunities for perimeter pressure by guards Vranes, Chubb and Braydon Ray.
The Falcons scored their first basket about 11/2 minutes into the second quarter and finished with no more than three field goals in any quarter until netting five in the final frame when the outcome had long been decided.
Overall, Crater limited La Salle Prep to 31-percent shooting from the field (11-for-36). Junior guard Nic Boyd led the Falcons with 17 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not disappointed with this game at all because I’m really pleased with how we defended,” said Schmerbach. “We knew La Salle was going to come down and they were going to take their time and try to control the pace and the tempo, and it’s a lot easier to do that than it is to speed it up. We were working really hard, pressing and doing things to try and speed them up, and we did a nice job of that at times but our overall defensive effort was great. We held them to eight first-half points, you can’t be upset by that.”
Crater opened things up in the third quarter, with Chubb heating up from beyond the arc and Vranes finding his way to the basket whenever he chose.
“That’s as good as Jay’s played all year,” said Schmerbach. “He was under control, he was calm and he was poised. That’s the kind of strong point-guard play we need.”
“Kruger did an excellent job of kind of figuring out what he needed to do in the second half,” added the coach, “and it was just a good team win. Nate was able to do his thing by sitting back and keeping them out of the paint, which will continue to be our thing moving forward. That’s the type of game that it’s going to be like moving forward up north.”
And moving forward was the only thing that mattered Saturday for the Comets, who will ramp up their expectations once they reach the final, and very familiar, 5A site in Corvallis.
“I’m hoping this team can get to the state final,” said Bittle, who set tournament records for field goals made, rebounds and blocked shots at Gill last year. “I think we have the people to do it and the talent, and definitely the defense to do it. We just have to put it all together on the big stage.”
LA SALLE PREP (30): Simmons 0, Taylor 4, Robertson 5, Jacobson 0, Rosumny 0, Boyd 17, Owens 4, Frick 0, O’Brien 0, Hortaleza 0. Totals: 11-36 2-3 30.
CRATER (57): J. Vranes 11, Ray 2, C. Vranes 0, Lasater 0, Chubb 8, Eaton 0, Higginson 0, Grant 0, Edwards 14, Anhorn 2, Bittle 17, McIntosh 3. Totals: 23-51 6-8 57.
La Salle Prep08913— 30
3-point goals — La Salle Prep 6 (Boyd 4, Taylor 1, Robertson 1), Crater 5 (Chubb 2, Edwards 2, McIntosh 1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry