The Horizon Christian Hawks advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1A state playoffs on Friday night, when they defeated the Crosshill Christian Eagles 49-43 at home in a hard-fought and physical game.
The game began at a crawling pace, with both teams employing effective zone defenses, limiting each other’s offense to rapid passing and outside shots. Horizon attempted a 1-3-1 offensive setup and found decent success, with senior Alex Petshow able to finish a miraculous layup, finishing despite a bruising foul, for an and-1 play. Beyond that, and a few shots going in from both teams, neither offense got going in the first quarter, which ended 9-10 with Crosshill in the lead.
“Initially we were able to use a 1-3-1 offense to penetrate the zone,” said coach Darrin Lingel. “We shot well early on, too.”
Horizon came alive in the second quarter on both ends of the court. After a technical foul on Crosshill’s Andrew Stoddard for hanging on the rim (the result of a failed alley-oop play), Hawks sophomore Caleb Lingel hit a deep three pointer, senior Derek Johnston blocked a shot on the other end and Horizon began to pace the game to their liking. There was one thing keeping Horizon concerned, however — they were committing a lot of fouls.
“I was nervous about the foul trouble early on,” said Lingel. “We had to manage that and it’s not something we usually are faced with. That affected us.”
Regardless of fouls, Horizon ended the first half up 25-18, the momentum at their backs. They carried that momentum through the third quarter, which like the first was slow and relatively quiet. Crosshill began to execute a trap defense on Horizon point guards, forcing riskier passes and excessive dribbling. The Hawks responded with good ball movement and penetrating the paint, where a physical match occurred all night. Johnston, one of the tallest players for Horizon, endured that physicality all game long.
“You just have to stay head strong and keep fighting, be physical right back to them and let the refs call the game how they will,” said Johnston.
By maintaining their strong defense and keeping care of the ball, Horizon kept its lead through the third quarter, which ended with them up 33-24. One major aspect that Horizon was paying particular attention to was rebounding. Despite being outsized (Crosshill had two 6-foot, 5-inch players to Horizon’s tallest at 6-foot, 3-inches) the Hawks tied the Eagles in rebounds and held the latter to just eight offensive boards.
“I thought we really did good on the boards, that was a big emphasis for us this game,” said Lingel. “These guys were tall, so we wanted to get after them on the rebounds, especially offensive boards.”
The fourth quarter opened with relative ease; the Hawks maintained control offensively and, while playing more reserved collectively due to players in foul trouble, kept their defensive pressure on. Crosshill amped things up with a full court press that dropped back into a trap zone, and the Hawks momentarily fell apart. With several turnovers and a couple unanswered points, Horizon found themselves with a narrow lead and a few minutes left.
“In the end, we just didn’t take care of the ball super well,” said Lingel. “Once we got past half court we got caught in their pressure and didn’t keep our heads up.”
After a long timeout, Horizon came out with their minds set on putting this game away. They broke the full court with ease, passed and dribbled away from the trap defense, and managed to score a few baskets of their own. Crosshill kept it close but eventually had to foul and put the Hawks at the free throw line, where they shot well. It was a mental adjustment more than a physical one that helped the Hawks keep their lead, and one the players were aware they had to make.
“You have to maintain your focus,” said Petshow. “Keep calm, run the play well, just like we work on in practice.”
“Under pressure you have to stay relaxed,” said Caleb Lingel. “When the ball was in our hands, we knew they would come after us. We had to ensure we stayed composed, avoided the double team, and move without the ball.”
Between their ability to break the trap and clutch free throws late in the game, Horizon held its lead and took home the win. Lingel led the scoring with 14, followed by Johnston and senior Bailey Holste with 13 each and Petshow with nine. Johnston recorded 12 rebounds as well for a double-double.
“We all knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Johnston. “We came in, stayed focused and executed our game plan well.”
Horizon, ranked fourth in the bracket, will play fifth-ranked Nixyaawii community school, a Native American high school from Pendleton. The game was played Feb. 27; results unavailable at press time.
All games for the remainder of the 1A tournament will be played at Baker High School in Baker City. If Horizon defeats Nixyaawii, they will play the winner of Prairie City and Sherman on March 1 at noon. If they lose, they play the loser of the aforementioned matchup on Feb. 28 at 9 a.m.