Gaston stays in the hunt for a repeat Northwest title with a comeback win against Neah-Kah-Nie

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Gaston sophomore Ian Mann goes up for the ball in traffic during the Greyhounds' 60-52 comeback victory against Neah-Kah-Nie on Friday.The Gaston boys basketball team did not lead for much of its game against Neah-Kah-Nie, but it led when it counted.

When the clock ran out.

Powered by a game-high 24 points from senior post Austin Waibel, the Greyhounds kept themselves in the thick of the Northwest League title race with a 60-52 victory at home against the Pirates on Friday. After having trailed by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, the home team — finally back in town for a game for the first time since Dec. 21 —took over the lead for good on Waibel’s three-point play midway through the fourth and closed the contest on a 15-5 run.

“We don’t play to our full potential until we get frustrated,” Waibel said. “That’s our biggest problem. Sometimes we’re asleep for the first half. We have done this for multiple games now, which is kind of bad. We’re trying to fix this.”

Though it may not have come in the squad’s most complete effort, the pivotal win upped the Gaston’s record to 9-5 overall and 6-1 in league play, meaning that the reigning conference champion Greyhounds kept pace with Portland Christian atop the Northwest standings heading into a big rematch against Riverdale on Tuesday.

Neah-Kah-Nie dropped to 5-9 overall and 2-5 in Northwest play, but early on, it was the Pirates who looked like the team to beat. Thanks in part to sophomore Traveion Morris’ four 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game, the Pirates jumped out to a 14-3 lead, and the Greyhounds looked like they might be headed for trouble.

“It’s kind of our thing this year. It takes us a little while to get going, and I was proud of our guys,” Gaston coach Marc Roche said. “We responded. Credit those guys. They played great, and we just fought and fought and fought and didn’t give up and finally made the plays down the stretch when we had to.”

At a time when most of the Greyhounds’ shots were not going down and they were working to contain Morris, junior wing Trevor Reynolds came off the bench in the first quarter to provide a spark.

By early in the second, Reynolds had three 3-pointers to his credit, the last of which cut the Gaston’s deficit to 19-15. While the deficit did swell back to nine at one point, the Gaston defense shut out Morris the rest of the period, and Waibel’s bucket off of an in-bounds play trimmed the deficit to a manageable 29-25 margin at the intermission.

“We’re big on understanding their personnel, what we need to do to stop their strengths, and not let that beat us. And it did at first,” Roche noted. “On a positive side, I’m proud of our guys, how we responded. We were down big, we were down double digits early and we just kept clawing away.”

Waibel and fellow senior Austin Morey had a lot to do with that. The two combined for 29 points in the second half, when the Greyhounds repeatedly sent the ball to Waibel down low.

The 6-foot-3 post — surely the hardest working man in Gaston on Friday night — repeatedly delivered even with multiple Pirates hanging on him, be it with a finish at the basket, a trip to the free throw line, or even both in sequence.

“We can just throw it in to him and just watch him work,” Morey said. “You don’t even have to do anything. That’s nice sometimes. We’ve been playing together since we were in fifth grade, so we work pretty well together.”

When Waibel was not scoring, Morey was. His two third-quarter 3-pointers ensured that the Pirates had more than Waibel in the post to worry about. The second of those shots actually gave Gaston its first lead of the night, 43-42, with less than a minute remaining in the period.

That advantage did not last, at least initially, because Max Halverson knocked down two free throws with 11 seconds left in the quarter to put the Pirates back up by one.

Gaston was still revving up at that point, though. The aforementioned Waibel three-point play with four and a half minutes remaining gave the Greyhounds the lead for keeps. Waibel, Morey, Saheat Berisha and Cole Waibel combined to go 11-for-18 down the stretch to seal the comeback.

“We just kind of clicked it together,” Austin Waibel said. “We decided to start working together, getting those deflections, looking for passes ahead, looking for each other, getting better shots. Making better decisions, I think, is the biggest thing, not forcing it.”

Morey finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. Reynolds had nine points, and Cole Waibel and Berisha added four each. Berisha added eight rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Austin Waibel had eight rebounds and four steals. For Neah-Kah-Nie, Morris ended up with 19 points, and Halverson also was in double figures with 12.

On Tuesday, the Greyhounds were at home again to face Riverdale, a team that beat them 49-39 on Jan. 7. Gaston faces two more big games at the end of the week. Friday’s is against Portland Christian, which entered the week tied at the top of the league standings. Tip-off for that contest at Multnomah University is 7:30 p.m. The Hounds return home Saturday to host Knappa in a 5:30 p.m. tilt.

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