PHILOMATH — “D…D…D…De-fense! D…D…D…De-fense!”
The Philomath High student section chanted at the top of their lungs, willing their boys basketball team to pull away from visiting Mazama in the first quarter of their Friday night first round playoff game.
As if on cue, PHS brought a quick half-court press, allowing Cal Stueve to steal the ball and drive for an uncontested one-handed dunk. Just moments later, PHS used the same defensive strategy to create another steal. This turnover ended with a two-handed flush.
Turning defense into quick offense, the Warriors pulled away from the Vikings in the middle of the first quarter and never looked back, winning 56-44.
The game began more than 30 minutes late due to a lack of officials. Once the refs arrived and stretched out, play began. Both teams were out-of-synch and played tight, failing to connect on passes and missing several shots.
However, the Warriors defensive intensity was high from the beginning, and the points soon followed.
Philomath coach Blake Ecker knew that stopping Mazama’s prolific outside shooters would be a key to winning the game.
“Their game plan is to shoot from the perimeter and shoot threes,” Ecker said. “We will just try to do our best to keep them from shooting from the perimeter and getting on a roll. Also limit their second chance points from long rebounds while looking out for them trying to attack the backside.”
Mazama hit two three-pointers early, but Philomath easily outscored them 17-9 in the first.
In the second period, Philomath outscored Mazama 21-6 thanks to seven points by both Stueve and Casey Croy. Clark Hellesto added four points in the quarter. The tenacious Warrior defense held Trey Lopez, Mazama’s most prolific scorer, to just three points in the half and six total.
At halftime, the score was 38-15 in favor of the Warriors.
The second half was slightly more competitive, as Mazama made minor adjustments to free up other players like Andrew Reynolds and Aiden Schram. Reynolds led Mazama with 14 points on the night. Lopez, Mazama’s most prolific scorer, ended up with only six on the night.
Mazama continued to fight until Lopez fouled out late in the fourth and the Warriors sat their starters. The Vikings scored 19 in the fourth to make the final score closer than expected.
Stueve led all scorers with 17 points while Croy added 13. Austin Gerding finished with 11, and had several dramatic blocks.
Philomath will now move on to play the fifth-seeded North Bend in Forest Grove on March 9th in the quarters. The Warriors won the state championship last season and also in 2014. The Warriors are three wins away from giving Ecker back-to-back titles. But, the coach knows that there are no guarantees.
"In state tournament, it's no holds barred. Whoever's playing their best at the time," Ecker said. "You need be good and you also need to be lucky."