BAKER CITY - Horizon Christian School opened defense of its Class 1A boys basketball state championship Wednesday with a 53-42 win against Country Christian in the final eight tourney.
Matt Totaro led the top-seeded Hawks (29-0) with a season-high 27 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Totaro was 10 for 11 from the field and 7 for 9 on free throws.
The victory at Baker City High School put Horizon into Friday’s semifinals, where it was scheduled to play Hosanna Christian at 3:15 p.m. (results unavailable at press time).
Horizon coach Darrin Lingel said the first game at state is always a challenge as players adjust to pressure in different ways. Horizon is also riding a 37-game win streak dating back to last season.
“It was a gutty performance; we gutted one out,” Lingel said.
Totaro was a force throughout the game; he was the most steady player on the floor when players on both teams struggled with consistency.
“He is the best player in the Big Sky this season and arguably the best player in 1A basketball,” Lingel said. “He proved it without a doubt. He was basically our go-to guy. He kept us in the game.”
Equally important was Ryan Aldrich’s defensive effort on Country’s all-league senior Mitchel Cunningham. He was a double-figure scorer during the regular season, but Aldrich limited him to no field goals and two points off of free throws.
“All year Ryan has been a defensive stopper for us,” Lingel said. “ We always look to Ryan. He gets us going in our defense. He sacrifices his body; he is a very selfless basketball player.”
Horizon never trailed after halftime, but Country (20-8) kept within striking distance until the closing minutes behind it’s outside shooting. The Cougars were 6 for 20 on three-pointers, with four different players scoring from beyond the arc.
“We knew that Country was going to shoot a lot of 3s,” Lingel said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them. We did a good job of not allowing them to get any runs.”
Country also was aggressive rebounding, despite a size disadvantage against the Hawks. The Cougars took advantage of 17 offensive rebounds with 15 second-chance points.
Horizon held it’s largest lead of 11 points early in the fourth quarter on a three-point play by Totaro before Country stormed back. The Cougars pulled within four points at 38-34 over the next two minutes, but could get no closer.
Horizon sealed the win by making six of seven field goals in the final period.
Mason Bloomster added 11 points for the Hawks, while teammate Jake Wells had 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
“We made adjustments in the second half where we played better defensively,” Lingel said. “ It was one of those games where neither team got any tempo — could never get into any good offensive flow.”