Horizon Assistant Coach Kevin Dale could barely get out the words Tuesday night, having cheered himself hoarse after watching the girls basketball team outlast the South Wasco County Redsides, 38-32, to claim a post-season win and a Big Sky district tournament berth — the first in the team’s 13-season history.
Dale’s comment was about this particular game, but could be easily applicable to the program as a whole, which is becoming one of note after continually struggling for relevance in the 1A Class and the Big Sky Conference since its inaugural 2003-04 season. The team has only made the post-season three times in its history, and lost all three times, most recently in February 2012, when the Hawks fell 41-21 to the Ione Cardinals in a first-round playoff game.
Tuesday’s win represented months of hard work put in by Horizon Head Coach Brian Stevens, Dale, and the Hawks roster before the season even started, said Brian Stenberg, Horizon Christian’s athletic director.
“Prior to the season, their coach, Brian Stevens, talked to me about how excited the girls were for the season. They were putting a lot more time in, going to camps, and believing they could achieve their goals — one of those goals being going to the district playoffs in Madras for the first time, which they achieved last night,” he said Wednesday morning. “It was so exciting to watch them play hard all four quarters. The girls knew they were going to have to play hard to beat South Wasco a third time this season, and give credit to South Wasco for playing tough. It has been fun checking in with the girls and how excited they are about what they have been able to accomplish as a team.”
“Feels great,” Stevens said about the win. “Everyone’s excited.”
The Redsides made the Hawks work hard for their playoff berth and battled Horizon from start to finish. Stevens said the first quarter “was a struggle defensively” for his athletes, who had trouble closing out South Wasco shooters, who put up 11 points in the first quarter. The Hawks were able to outscore the Redsides, putting up 16 points in the first, but both teams struggled offensively in the second quarter, which saw South Wasco outscore Horizon 6-5.
“After that, our girls applied their basketball IQ and figured out how to stop (South Wasco) on offsense,” Stevens noted.
In the third quarter, Horizon “attacked on offense and forced turnovers,” limiting the Redsides to two points for the majority of the quarter, and four points for its entirety. Meanwhile, the Hawks were busy under the basket on the other side of the court, particularly Paulina Finn, who put up half of Horizon’s 12 points that quarter, helping lead the Hawks to a double-digit advantage over South Wasco.
What first looked like a comfortable lead, grew to a two-possession game in the final minutes, as South Wasco was able to find ways to the hoop while simultaneously playing Hack-A-Hawk, sending Horizon players to the foul line with regularity. The Hawks struggled mightily on free throw shooting in the fourth, missing all but three of their 15 attempts at the foul line. Overall, Horizon went 6-for-19 on free throws (32 percent).
Stevens said he was displeased with the poor free throw shooting exhibited in the final eight minutes, but wasn’t concerned, and in the end, Horizon had enough of a cushion to win the game.
“It usually doesn’t work, but this time it did,” he said of South Wasco’s strategy to intentionally foul Horizon players. “I was disappointed with our free throw shooting, but was never worried about the outcome because of how strong our defense is.”
Leading Horizon in scoring (and leading all scorers in the game) was Kaitlin Wenz, who had 12 points, followed by Finn with 10. Also scoring for Horizon were Jodee Hicks (nine), Haley Becnel (six), and Chantelle Carter (one).
No. 23 Horizon was scheduled to take on No. 6 Condon/Wheeler in the first round of the tournament, held Friday at 6 p.m. at Madras High School (results not available at press time), and then face either Ione or Arlington on Saturday. The Knights have proven to be a formidable opponent not only to Horizon, but to nearly every other team, losing only two of their 22 games this season. In the teams’ two meetings this season, Horizon lost both (39-18 in Fossil Jan. 9 and 55-44 in Hood River Jan. 29).
Boys punch Big Sky ticket
The Horizon boys basketball team is once again heading to the Big Sky district tournament, after handily defeating the Condon/Wheeler Knights, 53-32, in a playoff game Wednesday night in Hood River.
It was the third time this season that the Hawks beat the Knights, all of which were wins by double-digit margins. After falling behind in the first quarter, 10-11, Horizon went into grit-n’-grind mode, first chipping away at Condon/Wheeler, then going on a 9-0 run between quarters two and three to build a double-digit lead (28-18) less than two minutes into the third.
After the second quarter, the Knights were never able to regain their lead. Horizon’s full-court press proved especially disruptive, causing Condon/Wheeler to turn the ball over 26 times throughout the game and shoot only 22 percent from the field. Horizon’s defense limited Condon/Wheeler to 14 points in the second half.
The Hawks had a decent night offensively, going 21-for-55 from the field (38 percent), but struggled on free throws, going 6-for-13 at the line (46 percent). Scoring was by committee, with 11 players putting up numbers for Horizon.
Leading the Hawks were Jared Bryan and Ian Walker, who had 11 and 12 points, respectively. Also scoring for Horizon were Derek Johnston (six), Kameron Brown (six), Ethan Evans (six), Luke Holste (five), Cody Lingel (two), Zack Walker (two), Alex Tran (two), and Quinn Roetcisoender (one). Brown led in boards and blocks with seven and two, respectively. Luke Holste had a team-high five steals.
No. 14 Horizon was scheduled to play No. 2 Sherman Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the opening round of the Big Sky tournament (results not available at press time) at Madras High School. Sherman lost only four of its 24 games this season and none of its 14 league games. As of Friday morning, the Huskies were on a 15-game win streak and had not lost a game in 2016. Horizon lost both its games to Sherman this season, (69-39 on Jan. 8 and 58-45 Jan. 30). Horizon will also play on Saturday against either South Wasco County or Dufur.