ADAIR VILLAGE — Rarely does anything go exactly as planned in sports.
Santiam Christian returned nine players after graduating just three off a 2017-18 team that went 22-7 and finished fifth at the 3A boys basketball state tournament.
The Eagles, who added two transfers and a freshman making contributions, are off to a 12-1 start but have been presented a significant hurdle.
Senior standout Zach Baugher is out indefinitely after a hard fall last week, and Santiam Christian is doing its best to fill the void.
Baugher was hurt Dec. 27 in the third quarter against 4A Hidden Valley in Santiam Christian’s opening game of a tournament in Medford. He suffered injuries to his head and left hand.
The 6-foot-7 guard and Western Oregon University signee went for a fast break dunk. As Eagles coach Dennis McLain remembers, Baugher “just slipped off the rim and fell, and hit his body and a little bit of his head on the floor.”
There was an extended period of time, about 20 minutes, while Baugher was attended to before coaches and officials decided the game would not be continued. Santiam Christian was leading 60-12 when the contest was called.
McLain credited Mustangs coach Alex Keller for being respectful of the situation and not wanting to put the Eagle players through having to finish the game.
Baugher spent the night in a Medford hospital but was able to leave the next morning and attended his team’s tournament games the next two days.
His father, Anthony Baugher, is a former athletic director and basketball coach at Santiam Christian. The Baugher family, including mother Cindy, brother Josh, who also plays on the team, and daughter Katie, were at the game when Zach was injured.
McLain and an assistant coach stayed at the hospital until the early morning hours of Dec. 28 before the family told them it was OK to head back to the team hotel.
“We have a tight family and we have an amazing community at Santiam Christian. A body of believers, like-minded, and they believe in the power of prayer,” Anthony Baugher said.
“You couldn’t ask for a better support system when you go through something like this. It’s good to see and makes us proud to be associated with the school.”
Added Zach Baugher: “I’m just incredibly grateful. The way that they’ve rallied around is incredible to me and eye-opening.”
A day after Zach Baugher’s injury, the Eagles started their next game, against Westside Christian, slowly but pulled away from Westside Christian for a 63-30 win.
“What they saw and how it happened was more emotional than just the fact that he got hurt and he’s out,” McLain said.
In the championship game the following day, Santiam Christian took an early lead and held off 5A Crater and 6-foot-10 sophomore Nate Bittle, one of the state’s top prospects, 44-40. Crater (8-4) was held to its lowest point total by an in-state opponent this season.
“It was really cool. I can’t really describe it,” Baugher said of seeing his team perform so well. “Just being able to see them play so hard, play with such emotion and passion and beat a really good Crater team. That was really cool. Something I won’t forget.”
Added McLain: “We played with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart that game.”
Baugher had wrist surgery Friday and hopes to be back before the end of the season, though it’s still uncertain if that will happen. He’s attending games, including last Thursday’s home win against Harrisburg, coaching and supporting his teammates.
In the meantime, the season goes on and the Eagles have the task of trying to replace a first team all-state player.
McLain said his team isn’t going to be able to make up Baugher’s 30-point average, so the focus will turn to defense.
The team’s goal remains to get back to Coos Bay, the site of the state tournament seven weeks from now.
“We know we have a special team,” the coach said. “It’s just trying to move people around to new positions and just a little bit different game plan.”
Senior forward Russell Vela and sophomore guard Josh Baugher have taken on biggest leadership roles on and off the court in efforts to help the squad continue on in a forward direction. Josh Baugher was a second team all-league pick last season.
Anthony Baugher compared the team’s situation to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and reserve quarterback Nick Foles filling in for injured starter Carson Wentz the past two postseasons. The Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl with Foles as the starter.
“When he’s needed, it seems like the rest of the team kind of rises to the occasion,” Anthony Baugher said of Foles. “This team at Santiam Christian is extremely talented, they’re very well-coached. “There are a lot of pieces to this team outside of Zach. They demonstrated that in the (Medford) tournament.”
Junior guard Ben Galceran, Josh Baugher, senior forward Zeke Gilbert and junior forward Koby Williamson were starters alongside Zach Baugher before the injury.
Williamson and sophomore forward Joe MaQatish are transfers from Lebanon High and have made an impact. MaQatish took Zach Baugher’s place in the starting lineup.
Freshman Ely Kennel, the Eagles’ varsity quarterback on the football field in the fall, has seen limited playing time but has been a big addition in practice, McLain said.
“I still think we’re trying to figure it out and exactly what we’re going to do.” McLain said last week. “We still have the same goals, we still have the same offense, the same defense. We’ve just got to get people to different locations now and see how they respond.”