BAKER CITY – Top-ranked Horizon Christian School shook off some first-quarter cobwebs Thursday and methodically dismantled third-ranked Imbler 67-47 in the opening round of the Class 1A state basketball tournament at Baker City High School.
The Hawks advanced to the semifinals where they played Crosshill Christian of Turner at 3:30 p.m. Friday (result unavailable at presstime). The semifinal winners — Columbia Christian faces Powder Valley in the other game — play in the Saturday night championship.
“First-game jitters are always something you have to deal with,” Horizon coach Darrin Lingel said. “I think overall we did a pretty good job of that.
“After the first quarter, we got a lather going, started sweating a little, and we picked it up quite a bit in the second quarter,” he said.
Actually, the lather mojo kicked in a little earlier, as the Hawks closed the opening period with an 8-0 run to take an 18-7 lead. Horizon built on its advantage in the second quarter to lead 37-22 at halftime. Horizon shot 49 percent from the field in the first half, as senior Matt Totaro and junior Mason Bloomster combined for 26 points.
Lingel said: “With the jitters, shooting is something that will be affected, but it turned out pretty good for us in the first half.”
Bloomster missed his first shot attempt near the basket two minutes into the game, but he was money after that, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Totaro was his steady self, as usual, adding 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“We established ourselves down low, got our low-post game going and got us a little lead,” said Totaro, who helped Horizon to a 32-6 scoring advantage inside. “Once we did that our guards hit some outside shots in the second quarter and we kept playing really good defense.
“We kept it going from there — we kept the momentum going the whole game.”
That was especially evident in the third quarter, as Horizon started the period with a versatile scoring burst fueled by its defense. The burst included a couple of baskets off forced turnovers, a mid-range Totaro jumper and a Bloomster put-back basket. The 8-0 run gave Horizon a 21-point lead and the Panthers would not get closer than 18 points the rest of the way. Horizon shot 58 percent in the second half, finishing at 52 percent for the game.
Trace Vancleave did his part to keep Imbler within striking distance — at least early in the contest — by leading his team with 18 points. But Horizon’s switching defenses kept the rest of the Panthers in check, by forcing 20 turnovers and allowing 32 percent shooting from the field.
Senior point guard Micah Engel, who had three steals and three assists to go along with his eight points, said the Hawk defense was key to the win.
“We calmed down and played our game which is tough, pressure defense,” he said. “We got a bunch of turnovers, and rebounds and got out in transition. At the end of the first half we were up 20-8 in rebounds, so that’s a big advantage.”
Lingel said the rebound margin was one of keys he discussed with his team in the locker room before the game.
“We wanted to control the boards, which we did,” he said of Horizon’s 41-18 final rebound advantage.
Second, Lingel said it was important to limit turnovers (Horizon finished with 20, but had just five at halftime and 13 until the final three minutes).
“I thought we took pretty good care of the basketball,” Lingel said. “And we wanted to get a sizeable lead to the point where we could rest some of our starters.”
“This is a three-game, three-day tournament. It’s back-to-back-to-back. We did what we wanted.”
Lingel said semifinal opponent Crosshill, a third-year school making its first state tourney trip, presents a different kind of challenge in the semifinals.
“They’re a good little basketball team. They play well together. They pass the ball well,” Lingel said after watching the Eagles’ 64-47 first-round win vs. Jordan Valley. “They shot the ball extremely well from the three-point area, so we’ll have to defend the three-point line tomorrow.”
Crosshill was 10 for 24 on three-pointers against favored Jordan Valley.
“It will be a challenge for us,” Lingel said. “We’re looking forward to that.”