By JOHN GUNTHER/THE WORLD
COOS BAY — One of the key principles Cascade boys basketball coach Calvin Molan has preached to his players is that the team is a brotherhood, through thick or thin.
On Saturday, that brotherhood brought the Cougars their first state title in boys basketball since 1974 when they beat Junction City 42-30 in the championship game of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 4A tournament at Marshfield High School.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Isaac Schnepp, one of five seniors on the Cascade roster. “This is something me and my buddies have been chasing since sixth grade.
“We had the confidence. We knew we could do it.”
Cascade used its size to stymie the smaller Tigers with a stifling zone defense alternated with man-to-man pressure. And they exploited that size inside, overpowering the Tigers near the rim.
“We played well,” said Schnepp. “We have a bunch of unselfish players.”
That showed in the scoring column, with four players scoring between eight and 10 points. Kellen Sande had 10, Spencer Horne and Ty Best nine each and Dominic Ball eight, including a pair of monster dunks.
But it was the defense that made the difference.
Sande said the key stretch of the game was the second quarter, when Cascade held Junction City scoreless to turn a 12-11 deficit into an 18-12 halftime lead.
“I think the second quarter, when we held them to zero points, when we made that run (was the difference),” Sande said.
Junction City was unable to get anything going against Cascade’s zone.
“I think our 3-2 zone is the best defense in the state,” Sande said.
Junction City had one surge left, starting the second half on a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Chris Ohman to go back in front 21-20.
“At halftime we wanted to make a run and we came out and we did it,” Ohman said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Cascade’s defense stiffened again and the Cougars scored the last eight points of the third — all near the rim — and were never threatened again.
“We preach that defense is going to get us through it, and staying together,” Molan said. “They played for each other and left everything on the floor.
“When they went on the run, we stuck with the brotherhood.”
Having a height advantage across the board helped.
“That was a big factor,” Schnepp said. “That’s huge.”
Ball stands 6-foot-11 and Best is 6-7 with great leaping ability. Schnepp is 6-4 and twin guards Samuel Horne and Spencer Horne provide the pressure on the top.
“Their size and length made it difficult,” Ohman admitted.
He said the Tigers played well overall, except for a few lapses.
“There were times the pressure and noise caused us to turn the ball over a little bit,” Ohman said, referring to a large crowd that made the Pirate Palace roar at points through the game.
Junction City’s last hope came when Ohman drained another three-pointer with just under six minutes to go that made it 34-26, but then the Cougars switched defenses to their regular man-to-man and forced three straight turnovers to essentially end the Tigers’ hopes.
Junction City finished with 18 turnovers, to eight by Cascade, and also shot just under 35 percent from the floor.
“Defense — that’s all our coach preaches,” Schnepp said. “We take a lot of pride in our defense.”
Kaleb Burnett led the Tigers with 11 points, while Ohman had nine (on three three-pointers) and Colby Evans eight.
Junction City entered the game ranked No. 1 in the OSAA power rankings and Cascade was No. 2.
The Cougars were playing with a chip on their shoulders after finishing second to host Marshfield in last year’s showcase event.
“(The title) was our goal from the start,” Schnepp said. “We didn’t want to have that feeling again.”
With Saturday’s victory, they had the opposite emotion.
“It feels great,” Sande said. “After last year, it feels unreal.
“All those practices, all the blood, sweat and tears. All the hard work paid off.”
Junction City was aiming for its first state title since 1994 and playing for the crown for the first time since 2004.
Though the Tigers came up short, Ohman said they will look back on the season fondly.
“This is the most fun season I’ve ever had,” he said. “Our team is the greatest team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Notes: Junction City’s Burnett was the only unanimous all-tournament pick and was joined on the first team by Best and Sande of Cascade, Seaside’s Ever Sibony and Cooper Gobel of Banks.
The second team included: Philomath’s Ty May, Seaside’s Cash Corder, Junction City’s Court Knabe and Stayton’s Jacob Axmaker and Garrett Callsen.
In the other trophy games Saturday, both featuring rivals from the same leagues, Banks beat Seaside 62-54 for third place in an all-Cowapa League matchup and Philomath topped Oregon West Conference rival Stayton 49-33 for fourth.
Baker won the sportsmanship award.