Top-ranked Horizon Christian School accomplished one of its season goals Saturday, winning the Big Sky Conference boys basketball championship in Hermiston.
The title gave the Hawks (27-0 overall) and seven other district champions a bye in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs, which began Tuesday. Horizon will play a state playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday. Horizon is the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Its Friday opponent will be the lowest seed of the 16 teams remaining after Tuesday’s round. Friday’s eight winners advance to the state tournament Feb. 27 to March 2 at Baker City High School.
Horizon defeated South Wasco County 65-49 for the Big Sky crown, a day after it survived an intense battle against Sherman in the semifinals, 60-54. The Huskies were the last team to defeat Horizon (February 2012), which extended its win streak to 35 games. Sherman defeated Echo in Saturday’s third-place contest, earning the league’s No. 3 seed in the state playoffs.
The Horizon-South Wasco game was a battle throughout, especially in the first half when there were nine lead changes and four ties. South Wasco led by as many as seven points early in the second quarter, before Horizon closed the half with a 15-7 scoring run to take a 28-27 lead. Nathan Duling’s basket to start the second half gave South Wasco its last lead, as Horizon outscored the Redsides 14-7 the rest of the period.
The Horizon advantage was six points before Matt Totaro scored in the lane. A short time later he added a three-point play to push the margin to 49-38. Reserve guard Jared Davis took over from there. During the next three minutes, the quick sophomore scored 13 points, including two three-point plays.
Davis finished with 16 points and four assists. Senior post Jake Wells led all scorers with 19 points; he added 10 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. Mason Bloomster scored 14 points, on 4-for-5 shooting from the field, and Totaro finished with 11 points.
The Hawks had similar scoring balance in the semifinal game against Sherman. Wells, Totaro, Bloomster and Micah Engel scored in double figures. Engel and backcourt mate Ryan Aldrich were the catalysts for Horizon early in the game, when their teammates were struggling to score. Known more for their in-your-face defense, they combined to score the Hawks’ first seven points, and Aldrich assisted on three Horizon baskets in the period.
Jailin Conboy, who led all scorers with 25 points, made three three-pointers and added a layin to pull the Huskies within 56-52 with 2:31 left. That’s as close as Sherman would get, as it was hurt by two missed front ends of one-and-one free throws and a turnover in the final minutes.
“I told the team after the game that we have some things we can improve on and we can grow through this,” Horizon coach Darrin Lingel said after the Sherman game. But his comments were apropos to the South Wasco contest, as well. “It is kind of nice to play a game like this and get a ‘W’ out of it.”