Landon Knox (right), with Anthony Best (5), scored 17 points in Cascade's 59-51 win over Baker. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Landon Knox (right), with Anthony Best (5), scored 17 points in Cascade's 59-51 win over Baker. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

A late January loss to North Marion provided a much-needed course correction for reigning 4A boys basketball champion Cascade.

Since that 75-64 defeat to the Huskies, the Cougars have climbed to a new level on a seven-game winning streak. During that span, they have defeated No. 9 Henley 63-33, No. 5 Philomath 74-58, No. 2 Baker 59-51and No. 7 North Marion 72-56.

Cascade (17-3, 7-1 Oregon West Conference) handed Baker (23-1) its first loss Feb. 10 and supplanted the Bulldogs at the top of this week's OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll.

“We were just coasting a little bit early in league,” Cougars coach Justin Amaya said. “No one really punched us in the mouth yet. North Marion was the first team to say, 'Wait a minute, we believe we can beat you guys,' and they outplayed us.

“It was a good wake-up call. I told the kids after the game, 'We're not good enough to just show up and not play defense. Just because our uniform says Cascade, it's not like teams aren't going to give us a good fight.'”

Baker, which was coming off a 79-56 win over 3A No. 1 Cascade Christian at Summit the previous night, started hot against Cascade, making six three-pointers in the first quarter. The Cougars pulled into a 25-25 tie at half, then opened the third quarter with a 15-0 run to lead 40-25.

“We talked about in the locker room that we had to turn it up,” Cascade junior guard Landon Knox said. “We had to play our game and not play down to their game.”

Cascade pushed the edge to 18 points early in the fourth quarter and survived a 12-0 Baker run to hold on for the 59-51 win. The Cougars avenged a 54-46 loss at Baker last season.

“It was a playoff atmosphere,” Amaya said of the win. “The speed of the game reminded me of the state tournament last year. If we play Baker 10 times, I think whoever's the home team wins, it's five and five.

“I believe Baker's going to bounce back. They're a solid team. They're everything that people talk about. It benefited us a little bit that they played the night before.”

Knox had 17 points, six assists and six rebounds and junior guard Droiy Comstock had 17 points and five rebounds for the Cougars. Baker made 11 three-pointers but fell far below its 72.6 scoring average.

“At least for me, it was a big game coming in because it was to prove to the naysayers and talkers that say we’re not as good as last year,” Knox said. “We lost to pretty much that exact same team last year, so I said we’re going to come out and try to prove something.”

Cascade came back two days later with a 72-56 home win over North Marion on Monday. The Cougars trailed 33-30 at half, but took control with a 9-0 run to start the third quarter and were up 48-38 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We knew we couldn't let that win (against Baker) get to our head, and that we need to play the same kind of basketball every game,” junior guard Kaiden Ford said.

Anthony Best, a 6-foot-7 junior post, had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead Cascade, which stands alone in first place in the Oregon West ahead of Philomath (16-5, 6-2) and North Marion (15-7, 5-3).

Cascade has two starters back from last season in Best and the 6-0 Knox, a 4A second-team pick as a sophomore. Best is averaging 14.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks. Knox is putting up 15.4 points, 5.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals.

The Cougars are getting big production from two players who came off the bench last season in the 6-2 Ford and the 5-10 Comstock. Ford is averaging 15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 steals. Comstock is contributing 10.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals.

“In my opinion, Kaiden is the most improved player in 4A basketball,” Amaya said. “He's added to his bag of tricks, and he's stepped up his defensive effort. And Droiy is one of the state's most underrated players.”

Cascade plays host to Philomath in the regular-season finale Feb. 20. The game could be the difference between the Cougars winning the conference title outright or sharing it with the Warriors.

As the playoffs approach, Amaya likes what he is seeing from his team.

“The first half of the season, we were playing a little selfishly offensively,” he said. “From that North Marion game on, the boys have made the extra pass. And defensively, we've been selling out, trying to get deflections.

“I'm really, really excited about how the boys turned that around. But I believe there's still more to give. There's more in the tank.”

-- Jeremy McDonald contributed to this report

Baker makes 'statement'

Entering the Cascade game, Baker was on a high after knocking off reigning 3A champion Cascade Christian 79-56 in a highly anticipated neutral-site showdown at Summit.

The Bulldogs, who made eight three-pointers, took the lead for good late in the first half. Senior guard Paul Hobson scored 18 points and junior guard Jaron Long added 14 points for the Bulldogs.

“I think they wanted to make a statement, and they made a statement against a great team,” Baker coach Jebron Jones told the Baker City Herald. “I think they were extra motivated tonight.”

The lead changed hands eight times in the first half, but Baker broke from a 25-25 tie to lead 38-30 at half. The Bulldogs extended the lead to 59-38 late in the third quarter.

Cascade Christian's 7-0 senior center, Austin Maurer, scored 28 points. But after scoring 17 points in the first half, he was held relatively in check by the undersized Bulldogs.

“We tried to make him uncomfortable by always having a body in front, and then having backside help,” Jones said. “It was a great team defensive effort. I thought we were more physical than they were.”

Carr-less Rams roll

Central Catholic, No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll, has continued to keep rolling despite playing without its leading scorer, Oregon-bound junior guard Isaac Carr.

The 6-4 Carr, who is averaging a team-high16.9 points, has missed the last five games after spraining his ankle in practice. The Rams (19-3, 11-0 Mt. Hood Conference) have won all five of those games by at least 29 points.

“People don't realize how good some of the guys we have are,” coach David Blue said. “So when a guy like Isaac goes down, now you get to see them. We have some young guys that are pretty talented in their own right, where if they were at another school, they would be all-league or have all-state consideration.”

Since Carr's injury, sophomore guard Zamir Paschal and junior guard Duce Paschal have had games of 32 and 31 points, respectively. Senior wing Marley Zeller, a Pepperdine commit, had back-to-back games of 24 points.

Central Catholic has cruised through the Mt. Hood, its only single-digit victory a 51-48 win at No. 6 Barlow on Jan. 11. In the rematch with Barlow at home Feb. 6, the Rams won 69-39, although they were missing Carr and the Bruins were without their leading scorer in junior guard Jalen Atkins (ankle).

Blue said Central Catholic's scores don't reflect the strength of the Mt. Hood.

“Our conference is good,” he said. “Just wait until the first round of the playoffs, there are going to be some upsets.”

Blue said that Carr is out indefinitely for the Rams, who are bidding for their first state championship since 1994.

“Hopefully he gets back if we make it to the state tournament,” Blue said. “Of course, he has a bright future ahead, and we don't need to rush him and get him reinjured.”

Crane repels Nixyaawii

Junior Cody Siegner scored 24 points to lead No. 1 Crane past No. 2 Nixyaawii 64-51 in a 1A nonleague showdown at Eastern Oregon University on Feb. 8.

Senior guard Carter Nichols added 17 points for the two-time reigning state champion Mustangs (22-1). Crane has won 20 in a row since a loss to No. 4 Union, a streak that includes a 70-60 win over Nixyaawii (17-4) at Pilot Rock High School on Dec. 9.

Nixyaawii led Crane 19-16 after one quarter but the Mustangs pulled ahead 37-28 at half. Senior Baron Moses scored a team-high 14 points for the Golden Eagles.

Crane came back the following day to pull out a 58-56 win over 2A No. 9 Stanfield at Baker High School, ending the Tigers' 15-game winning streak. The 6-7 Siegner scored 28 points for the Mustangs, who trailed 43-41 entering the fourth quarter.

Southridge leads Metro

No. 3 Southridge stands atop the 6A Metro League after a 58-44 home win over No. 6 Jesuit on Tuesday. Senior guard Carter Fortune scored 16 points to lead the Skyhawks (20-3, 8-2), who lost at Jesuit 57-48 in the first round of league play.

With two league games left, Southridge leads Jesuit (14-7, 6-3), Westview (13-8, 6-3) and No. 8 Mountainside (12-9, 6-3). The Skyhawks go to Mountainside on Friday and play host to Sunset (9-13, 2-8) on Feb. 23.

Against Jesuit, Southridge coach Phil Vesel said his team shot better (7 of 16 on three-pointers) and defended the three-point line better than the first meeting.

"I thought we were better prepared for the physicality of the game," Vesel said. "League games tend to be slower and more physical. I didn't have my guys prepared for that the first time through league."