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Horizon Hawks stand proudly behind the tournament board that illustrates their bracket progression en route to winning the 2019 Big Sky District Championship.

With two strong performances over the weekend, the Horizon Christians Boys Basketball team took first place in the Big Sky District Tournament and returned home to Hood River as champions. This championship marks the eighth in the school’s history, the sixth for Darrin Lingel as head coach, and the first in four years.

Horizon came into the tournament seeded second, below the Sherman County Huskies, whom they had lost to twice during the regular season.  In their first game on Friday night, the Hawks faced Arlington High School, a team they had beaten handily earlier in the year. It would not be an easy win, but Horizon would approach this game, and the tournament, with a sense of purpose that drove them to success through the weekend. Aspects of their play that had caused them problems in the season were improved, and the team camaraderie was at an all-time high.

“One thing we talk about is in accomplishing our goals, we have to get through each game,” said coach Darrin Lingel. “We can’t look ahead to the district championship, we have to focus on the team we’re facing next. Trusting one another, playing together and having each other’s backs.”

While the Hawks had to adjust in the second half, fighting for rebounds and denying Arlington any easy shots, they slowly pulled ahead as the game went on. Great shot selection helped the Hawks surge offensively; they collectively shot 54 percent from the field, significantly better than their season average.

“We had better shot selection for sure,” said Lingel. “It was a battle though, and we came back a bit in the second half and outscored them. There was a true team effort in this game.”

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Coach Lingel hoists the net high to the cheers of the team.

The scoring was quite varied for Horizon, with Derek Johnston, Kyle Brown and Alex Petshow leading with 14, 10 and 10 respectively. Johnston shined in the Arlington game, adding eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks to his offensive performance. With a final score of 53-48 and their first win secured, the Hawks advanced to Saturday for yet another game against Sherman, this time with the championship at stake. Coach Lingel and the boys had a strategy in mind and a focus to ensure its success.

“Our goal going in was to limit them to 40 total field goal attempts,” said Lingel. “We wanted to make sure we were taking our time with each offensive possession, but remaining efficient with our scoring. We felt that if we were able to do that, to slow the game down, we would frustrate them and force bad shots, and it played out exactly as we thought.”

Sherman County, typically a high percentage shooting team, shot just 35 percent overall from the field, including 0-for-10 from three. Horizon, meanwhile, was led to victory by a dominant offensive display by sophomore Caleb Lingel, son of head coach Darrin. Caleb Lingel connected on 83 percent of his shots, including an incredible 4-for-5 from three. Between his 16 points, Petshow’s 10 and Johnston’s 8, the Hawks were able to pull out a 45-35 victory over the Huskies and claim the championship.

“I think for Caleb he’s had this kind of game in him every day,” said Lingel. “He was relaxed and became a leader, taking good open shots and putting everything in.”

In the aftermath, the Horizon players celebrated in classic basketball style by cutting the net from the basket and lofting it on high. Coach Lingel cut the last strands and proudly displayed the symbol of Horizon’s victory while the crowd cheered throughout the gym.

“It was a feeling of absolute excitement and also relief,” said Lingel. “These guys, these seniors, they had never beaten Sherman before. They were just elated. Having my son on the team as well made this win really special; he’s grown up in the gym and seen us cut down those nets and raise the trophy before, so for him to contribute and help the team earn this one made me quite proud.”

Caleb Lingel would then be awarded the Jason Halvorson Memorial Spirit of Basketball Award, an award given to the player of the tournament whose performance and player persona exemplified excellence across all aspects of play. He is the fourth athlete in Horizon’s history to win the honor, and rightfully so, given his performance in the championship game and displayed leadership on the court. Yet, with the trophy in their hand and the weekend concluding in bliss, the Hawks were not content with their season; there was more for them to hunger for.

“As far as the season goes, we’ve met our first goal: Win districts,” said Lingel. “But we’re not done yet. We have state playoffs to qualify for, and hopefully play in. This team isn’t done yet. Our mindset this whole year has been, and continues to be, be confident and believe. Be confident in yourself and believe in each other.”

If the Hawks can stick to that philosophy, then this championship was only the beginning. Their next game will be at home this Friday, expected start time somewhere between 6 pm to 7 pm.

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