The Philomath High School boys basketball program finds itself in unfamiliar territory.
Heading into their Oregon West Conference opener against Stayton, the Warriors had won nine of their last 10 league games against the Eagles — that lone loss coming last season on the road by three points.
But in this year’s first meeting Friday in the PHS gym, Stayton pulled away from the Warriors toward the end of the first quarter and never relented in a 63-51 victory. Veteran coach Blake Ecker has said in the past, even after victories, and reiterated following Friday’s loss that his players need to discover a sense of urgency on the court.
“You play a league game at home against a very good team and we didn’t play hard enough to win the ballgame,” Ecker said. “They’re a good team and they did a good job but we’re better than what we are.”
Ecker hopes that it’s not a sign of things to come in the Oregon West. Three other teams in the league ended the week with top-10 rankings according to the OSAA — No. 4 Woodburn, No. 5 Sweet Home and No. 7 Stayton. Even the team with the worst record has a winning record at 7-5 and the lowest ranked in only at No. 20.
“If you don’t come ready to play, we’ll get blown out by 20 every game,” Ecker said. “We were just complacent and mediocre, but we’re OK with that typically. That’s what I don’t like and that’s not what this program’s about.”
But Philomath’s not necessarily destined to doom. The Warriors are the fourth OWC team currently ranked in the top 10 at No. 8. Stayton had been on a tear early on with seven wins in its first eight games, but the Eagles came into the Philomath contest after back-to-back losses in their own holiday tournament.
“We weren’t aggressive at the basket in the first half of the game,” Ecker said. “We did not get out and close out the three-point shot. We’re trying to limit their inside game but at the same point, we talked about closing out, getting out and getting a hand up.”
Stayton’s offense featured the three-pronged attack of seniors Jordan Butler, Kaleb Anundi and Riley Nichol. The Eagles trio combined for 45 of their team’s points — Butler’s 16 included five 3-pointers, Anundi got his 15 inside and on free throws and Nichol’s 14 featured a little of both from inside and outside.
“This game, they just took it to us,” Ecker said. “It was kinda even there in the first quarter — we were up 8-6 and then they went on a 9-0 run.”
PHS senior Ethan Manning hit two of his four 3-pointers on the evening in the first five minutes of the game to help the Warriors to that 8-6 lead that Ecker mentioned. Junior Toby Stueve also had a basket inside midway through the quarter.
But Stayton responded with three straight 3-pointers to end the quarter. Nichol hit the first one for a 9-8 lead and Butler followed with his first two of the night.
In the second quarter, Philomath hung tough and got back to within 20-17 after a stretch that featured a Marshall Brattain basket after a nice pass from Manning and a jumpshot from Carter O’Hare.
Stayton got its lead back up to 27-19 by halftime, however, the last points coming on a 3-pointer by freshman Jacob Axmaker.
After falling behind by 10 in the opening seconds of the third quarter, Philomath cut its deficit down to just four on a pair of 3-pointers by Manning. But the Eagles had all the answers on this evening and outscored the Warriors 17-6 over the rest of the quarter.
In the fourth, Stayton led by as many as 20.
Manning ended up with 18 points for the Warriors with three two-point baskets and four 3-pointers. Sophomore Michael Lundy scored 10 and the rest of the team’s points were split up fairly evenly with five players scoring four, five or six points.
Philomath entered this week with an 8-4 record and was scheduled to play Tuesday at Sweet Home in a game after the newspaper's press run. The Warriors will host Cascade at 5:30 p.m. Friday.