As of Friday, February 24, 2017
For a time, it looked like they might not make it into the Big Sky District tournament, but they did.
Then, it looked like they might not make it out of the district tournament, but they did.
And on Tuesday, they weren’t supposed to beat Joseph, but they did.
The No. 15 Horizon boys basketball team looked to keep defying the odds (and get well-acquainted with their bus seats on another long road trip) with a second-round matchup at No. 2 Days Creek (22-6, 11-2 Skyline League) Friday at 7 p.m. (results not available at press time). The Hawks advanced to the second round after defeating Joseph (19-7, 11-3 Old Oregon League) 54-50 in Joseph Tuesday evening in a thrilling cage match between two evenly-paired teams that saw eight lead changes.
“It was close. It was a good game, it was hard fought, back and forth,” said Horizon Head Coach Darrin Lingel.
While Horizon has been more known for its offense this year, particularly in the paint, Tuesday’s win over the Eagles was the Hawks’ “best defensive performance all year,” and also gave the opportunity for players to shine who aren’t normally at the top of Horizon’s stat sheet.
In a gym that was so loud Lingel said he had difficulty hearing players four feet in front of him, the Hawks struggled in the first quarter and found themselves in a pickle when senior big man Ian Walker got into foul trouble, dinged for two infractions within the first 90 seconds that forced him to ride the pine for the majority of the first half.
Joseph outscored Horizon 13-6 in the first quarter, but Horizon worked themselves back into it in the second and trailed the Eagles 22-18 at the half.
In what Lingel described as “a tale of two halves,” the Hawks came out ready to play in the third, and were aided by some inspired two-way “physical” play by senior William Decker (11 points, 5-for-8 from the field, five rebounds) and particularly that of sophomore Bailey Holste (team-high 15 points, 5-for-7 from the field, six rebounds, team-high four steals, two assists, block).
“He went off on those guys,” he said of Holste. “Basically, the switch flipped and he said it was time to play. All-around, the MVP of the game.”
Playing a match-up zone, Horizon was able to get ball pressure on the Eagles, and reduced the effectiveness of their post players who had been causing the Hawks problems in the first half. Lingel said that “forced (Joseph) to shoot from the outside and forced them to do things they didn’t want to do.”
The Hawks were able to muscle their way to a three-point lead by the end of the third quarter and continued to build on the work they started at the half, gaining a nine-point advantage with just a couple minutes left to go in the game. Joseph looked tentative and nervous, Lingel said.
Then, just to give a heart attack to the dedicated Hawks fans who made the long journey to Joseph, Horizon had a series of “brain farts” that opened the door for an Eagles rally, who closed the gap to three points with 90 seconds to go. However, a key free throw made by Holste and some important stops by the Horizon defense kept the Eagles from regaining the lead.
Though he missed a large part of the first half due to foul trouble, Walker still had a productive night, scoring 13 points. Derek Johnston was quiet offensively, only scoring two points, but had team highs in boards (11), assists (five), and blocks (two).
After the game, Lingel said Joseph Head Coach James Ellis came over and congratulated him for the win, and expressed surprise at how well Horizon played after finishing third in Big Sky tournament. During Lingel’s previous tenure with the team, the Hawks were an elite 1A program — state champions with a target on their backs. This year, they’re underdogs, and it’s a role Lingel seemed to relish as he and his players headed to their showdown with the Days Creek Wolves.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said Thursday. “They have everything to lose.”