Third time is the charm for Challengers
COOS BAY — After the last two seasons, “almost” wasn’t enough for the Cascade Christian boys basketball team.
On Saturday night, the Challengers were able to get over the hump after back-to-back years of almost getting there in the bid for Class 3A supremacy.
For the first time since 2009, Cascade Christian can call itself a state champion, as the fourth-seeded Challengers capped a thrilling run on the Oregon Coast with a 52-45 win over No. 2 seed De La Salle North Catholic in the 3A state championship game at Marshfield High School.
“It’s been a while since we won a state championship, so it’s something I’ve been excited for,” said Cascade Christian senior point guard Cody Reece, who proudly sported the net around his neck after he was the last one to cut a piece down in a postgame ceremony. “When I came in as a freshman, I had some goals in mind — be all-league, be all-state and win a state championship. Now I’ve done all three of those, so it’s nice to see it and all of the hard work come to light.”
After its dominant quarterfinal win over Umatilla on Thursday, Cascade Christian (23-5) knocked off the top two seeds on its way to its third state title under head coach Brian Morse, having previously won the Class 2A title in 2007 and 3A two years later.
Sophomore center Austin Maurer scored 12 of his 13 second-half points in the fourth quarter, helping the Challengers stave off a furious run by the Knights (24-3) that saw them take their first lead of the night at the end of the third period.
Maurer, a unanimous pick on the all-tournament first team, finished with a game-high 26 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and three assists. And just for added measure, Maurer was 15-of-19 from the free-throw line, including the last two points the Challengers scored in the game with eight-tenths of a second to go as Reece and the rest of his teammates got the celebration started.
When asked if he knew the fourth quarter would be his time to take over the game, Maurer didn’t hesitate.
“Yep .. yep,” said Maurer as a grin started to appear.
That was the thing that Morse knew the Challengers had this season compared to the two previous years when they finished second in the state. When the Challengers needed offense down the stretch, it was the 6-foot-11 Maurer who was going to be in the center of everything.
“Just his dominance inside,” said Morse when asked about Maurer’s state tournament performance. “His presence, his rebounds, his blocks — I didn’t feel like anybody could guard him. Our biggest thing was getting him the ball. He just played great. He shot 3s, got rebounds, made free throws, all of those things. It was just evident to everybody.”
Cascade led 27-13 at the break as the Challengers watched De La Salle North Catholic struggle mightily from the floor, shooting 18.2% (6-for-33) in the first half.
But as Morse and the Challengers knew, the Knights were going to make their run.
And they did in the third quarter.
De La Salle North Catholic outscored Cascade 19-4 in the third, with the Challengers’ lone field goal coming on a Cannon Anderson 3-pointer from the right wing that banked in off the glass.
The Knights, through the suddenly hot shooting of TJ Latu, roared back into the game. Latu scored 13 of his 17 second-half points in the third, including a jumper from the free-throw line to give the Knights their first lead of the game, 32-31, with 2 1/2 minutes to go in the quarter.
“Basketball is a game of runs and we knew they were going to go on theirs,” Reece said. “We just weren’t getting the rebounds we needed and they were getting second-chance opportunities. That’s what allowed them to get going. “
That’s where the score stayed entering the fourth quarter, and the message from Morse was crystal clear: just calm down.
“At one point, I had five of our assistant coaches talking and giving instructions,” Morse said, “and I told them, ‘Everybody stay calm. We’re going to be OK, take a deep breath, let’s get the ball into Austin and things are going to be good.’”
Indeed they were.
The Challengers opened the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run to retake the lead for good, with Maurer scoring the first six of those points, including a slick putback after a missed Reece 3-pointer. Reece’s and-1, and another Maurer basket in the paint, put the Challengers up 44-39 with just under three minutes remaining.
Reece, another first-team all-tournament selection, finished with 11 points and two assists as he fought through an ankle injury.
Anderson added eight points and five rebounds and Peyton Maurer rounded out the Challengers’ scoring with seven points.
De La Salle North Catholic got as close as four points down the stretch, with Latu — who finished with 21 points — hitting his fourth and final 3-pointer of the night cutting the deficit to 47-43.
But it was routine for the Challengers from there, with Austin Maurer and Reece the ones to step to the line in the final minute to clinch the win.
“It’s amazing,” said Austin Maurer. “I wouldn’t change any way that game was played. I wouldn’t change anything.
“It just doesn’t feel real. It’s awesome.”
Added Morse: “I wanted this so bad for Cody Reece. I’ve never wanted it so bad for one player as much. He was the only player in his class for four years (to play basketball). He’s had two tough losses the last two years. His heart and his character … I’m just so happy for Cody. Obviously it’s a team game, but I’m so happy he’s going out his senior year with a state championship.”
Winning the state title is what the Challengers set out to do from the very beginning. It’s why Morse scheduled the way he did, and it’s the confidence they took with them throughout their three-day run on the coast.
Now, as these Challengers get ready to head back to Medford, they’ve got a little extra to make sure they take with them.
“This is what we set out to do,” Morse said. “Two things allowed this to happen — the best point guard in 3A and the best player in 3A. Having those two players that are dominant and want to win, that’s really what it comes down to.”
CASCADE CHRISTIAN (23-5)
Austin Maurer 5-11 15-19 26, Cody Reece 3-12 5-9 11, Cannon Anderson 3-8 0-1 8, Peyton Maurer 2-3 2-2 7, Bryley Richardson 0-3 0-0 0, Landon Hess 0-0 0-0 0, Triston Wallace 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 13-40 22-31 52.
DE LA SALLE NORTH CATHOLIC (24-3)
TJ Latu 8-20 1-1 21, Mathias Billings 4-14 0-0 8, JahAllah Van 3-9 0-0 6, Israel Hill Jr 2-5 0-0 5, Preston Thomas 2-3 1-3 5, Jaydiss Battles 0-0 0-0 0, Elliott Ball-Dowling 0-4 0-0 0, Ater Beng 0-0 0-0 0, Marqui Scott 0-1 0-0 0, Quincy Aranda 0-8 0-0 0. Totals: 19-64 2-4 45.
Cascade Christian918421— 52
De La Salle North Catholic2111913— 45
3-point goals—Cascade Christian 4-19 (Cannon Anderson 2-6, Peyton Maurer 1-2, Austin Maurer 1-4, Bryley Richardson 0-2, Triston Wallace 0-1, Cody Reece 0-4), De La Salle North Catholic 5-27 (TJ Latu 4-9, Israel Hill Jr 1-3, JahAllah Van 0-1, Elliott Ball-Dowling 0-2, Marqui Scott 0-1, Quincy Aranda 0-5, Mathias Billings 0-6). Fouled out—Cascade Christian-None, De La Salle North Catholic-Mathias Billings. Rebounds—Cascade Christian 42 (Austin Maurer 16), De La Salle North Catholic 33 (Mathias Billings 12). Assists—Cascade Christian 7 (Austin Maurer 3), De La Salle North Catholic 6 (Israel Hill Jr 2, Mathias Billings 2). Total fouls—Cascade Christian 12, De La Salle North Catholic 22.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.