In their final regular season home game, the Horizon Christian Hawks boys basketball team honored its quartet of seniors prior to Friday’s Big Sky Conference match-up against the Sherman Huskies.
Considering the circumstances, it was quite appropriate that those seniors — Matt Totaro, Austin Requa, Micah Engel and Amar Mann — were part of an inspired effort to that resulted in a 63-42 Horizon win.
Horizon girls conclude building season
The Horizon Christian School girls basketball team concluded its season with two Big Sky Conference losses over the weekend, including a 39-22 game at home Friday vs. Sherman.
The young Hawks, guided by coach Chad Leeson, have seven freshmen on their 11-player roster. The season was tagged as a building year from the beginning, so coaches are optimistic about how things went.
“I thought that we might surprise some teams to get a couple of wins,” said Leeson, Horizon’s second-year coach. “The games against Helix (4-18 overall, 2-8 league) and Central Christian (5-10, 1-5) were canceled and I thought we might have a chance to win both of those. We’re a young team and we started to get better in the last few games when we really started to play more competitively. The girls have continued to show improvement all year, while continuing to get better. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that from our team.”
The highlight of Friday’s game was late in the third, when sophomore Sarah Ryan (four points) sank an outside buzzer beater jumper to make it 33-15 after three quarters.
Horizon junior post Trista Hicks, who has played solid defense and offense all year, led the team in scoring with nine points. Jodee Hicks scored five and Hannah Kempf and Haley Becnel both had two points.
“Our seniors have laid the foundation that has helped continue the success of our basketball team and they’re really the pillars of our program,” said Horizon coach Darrin Lingel.
“They’ve each done so much the last four years. They’ve displayed good character with their commitment to practice, doing offseason workouts and making many significant contributions. The younger kids look up to them and they’ve learned from the seniors what it takes to excel out on the court and what it takes to win district and state titles.”
The No. 1-ranked 1A Hawks (20-1 overall, 7-0 Big Sky West Division) played a hard-fought and physical battle against the Huskies (13-10, 4-4) in which four lead changes and two deadlocks in the first quarter helped the Huskies build early momentum. Sherman freshman guard Max Martin (21 points) fired in a three-pointer from the corner giving his team a 13-10 advantage and forcing a timeout by Hawks coach Darrin Lingel with two minutes, 17 seconds left in the opening frame.
A 6-0 run with baskets by Mason Bloomster (eight pts., 10 rebounds) and Totaro (25 pts., 13 rebs.) helped Horizon regain the edge with a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“Sherman played very tough and that’s what we expect every time we play them,” said Totaro. “We just have to be ready to come out and play hard every game, especially against one of our main league rivals like Sherman. I feel honored to be a Hawk and it was a beautiful pregame ceremony. It’s something you think about when you’re a freshman and then you see all the seniors have that same experience.”
Momentum in the second half turned in favor of the Hawks, who utilized their full-court press to create turnovers and get steals, while converting the scoring opportunities into baskets. An impressive 16-1 run included baskets by Bloomster, Engel (eight pts., eight assists, six steals); Totaro helped the Hawks build a 32-17 halftime lead.
Horizon then went on an 11-5 run in the third to further increase their lead, but Sherman managed 10 points of their own in the quarter to keep the Hawks from completely running away with the game.
“We had some steals, we executed well offensively and we started taking advantage of having some open areas on the floor to build a big lead,” said Lingel. “It may sound kind of funny at this point of the season, but our team is actually getting better. We strive to improve in every game throughout the year. We’re looking forward to the upcoming Big Sky District playoffs and we can’t wait for that to start.”
Horizon’s momentum continued in the third as the Hawks’ offense was simply unstoppable. The teams traded baskets early, with Horizon up 48-30. A 7-5 Hawks run capped by Totaro’s jumper in the lane made it 55-35 with 3:24 remaining in the contest. Back-to-back threes by long-range sharpshooter Jared Davis (seven pts., four assists) propelled the Hawks in front 60-38 and they took their their largest lead of the game at 63-40 on Johnston’s three from the top of the arc.
“I enjoy facing a tough opponent like Sherman that can really provide us with a good test,” said Lingel. “It’s good to have a challenge, because you can’t expect to have blowout wins in every game. They used several different defensive schemes and some other forms of strategy, but our kids handled everything pretty well.”
For Requa and Mann, it was a rare and special occasion being in the starting lineup for the first time this season. It’s a longtime Horizon tradition for seniors to start on Senior Night.
“Sherman came out and played a strong game, which they always do,” Requa said. “But it turned out to be a good outcome for us. I experienced a similar Senior Night ceremony with our soccer team, but this was kind of nice too and it was a good way to honor the seniors.”
“It sure doesn’t seem like I’m worthy to be in the starting lineup on such a good, high-quality team like we have, but it sure was an exciting experience,” said Mann. “That was the highlight of the season for me so far. I think our team is capable of accomplishing great things this year and we might even have a chance of winning the state championship.”
The 21-point victory marked the 10th time the Hawks have won by 20 or more points. Horizon captured its 20th consecutive victory with an 84-68 road win Feb. 15th over the South Wasco County Redsides (13-10, 4-4) in Maupin.
The Hawks are now focusing on preparing for the upcoming Big Sky District Playoffs Feb. 21-22 at Hermiston High School. Horizon will play either the Nixyaawii Golden Eagles (17-5) or the Sherman Huskies (14-10) in a 4:30 p.m. contest Friday in Hermiston, followed by a Saturday contest against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
Horizon has won the Big Sky District title the last three years and is favored to win its fourth consecutive championship. If the Hawks win the Big Sky title as expected, they’ll host an OSAA/U.S Bank/Les Schwab Tires second round state playoff game March 1.