Seeking a fourth consecutive Big Sky Conference title, the Horizon Christian School boys basketball team kicked off its Class 1A Big Sky league schedule Friday night at home versus the Central Christian Tigers of Redmond.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Hawks (2-0 Big Sky, 10-1 overall) steamrolled the visiting team, finishing with an impressive 76-19 blowout win and making a statement to the rest of the league — and the state — that they’ll again be a top contender for the title.
“The team we played is a young team that is developing players to help improve their basketball program, but it always takes a few years to be able to do that,” said coach Darrin Lingel. “No matter who we’re playing, the key for us is to have good execution, stay focused and maintain a high energy level, which is exactly what we did. We were focusing on those three things as well as communicating better so that we can continue to improve over the course of the season.”
Among the many highlights of the night, RJ Hicks had a breakthrough game with a season-high 21 points.
“I actually felt prior to the game that we could have a blowout win,” said Hicks, whose freshman sister Jodee plays on Horizon’s girls basketball team. “We were really hustling well and we were working hard to just maintain control throughout the entire game. It sure feels good to be highly ranked and we’re just hoping to keep our win streak going. We’re also focusing on our goal of winning the state championship, too.”
After building a solid lead, Lingel and assistant coach Mike Totaro substituted often, while frequently rotating five players in and out of the lineup to give everyone valuable experience and playing time.
“We just wanted the guys to execute and do whatever we asked them to do,” said Lingel. “We wanted to emphasize our transition game and move the ball by looking upcourt and passing it, instead of dribbling. We had lots of fast-break baskets, which is one area that we wanted to improve in our game. The coaches are the only ones concerned about the score and the player rotation. We just ask them to go out there and play hard and everyone did that.”
Senior post Matt Totaro (14 pts.) scored often in the post area while utilizing his height advantage and athleticism to help the Hawks maintain their insurmountable lead.
“I was proud of my teammates for playing real good team basketball,” said Totaro. “This is a nice way to start league play. We hope to win the district title for a fourth straight year and then the state championship, which is our goal every year and I think we’ll have a good shot at it.”
One of many highlights of the game was a fourth-quarter slam dunk Totaro had on a fast break, which brought Hawk fans to their feet with excitement.
“It was my first dunk this year and it felt really good to do it on our home court,” said Totaro, who receives a Papa Murhpy’s pizza as a reward from Lingel for the spectacular shot. “We’ll face other good teams in our league, so we have to stay focused and build our confidence level so that we’ll continue to improve.”
For the first time this year, every player for Horizon scored in the game and the 19 points allowed by the Hawks was a season low for an opponent. On Saturday, the Hawks traveled to Eastern Oregon to meet the Echo Cougars (1-4, 2-11), where they notched a 10th straight win in a 78-36 victory. It marked the third time this season the Hawks scored 70 or more points.
“We’re hoping to win the district title and then move on to the state playoffs, which is our goal every year,” said Lingel. “We’ll have to see how it all transpires. As long as the kids stay focused and be committed to what we’re them to do, then hopefully we’ll achieve our goals.”
The Hawks had hopes of extending their win streak to 11 when they met the Sherman Huskies (1-1, 6-5) in a 7:30 p.m. contest Tuesday in Moro (results unavailable as of press time). The team then hosts the No. 11 ranked Dufur Rangers (2-1, 7-3) Friday at 7:30 p.m.