In a new year, with mostly new players, this was the game.
Despite a 12-5 start to the year, including winning 12 of their last 14, it was their first meeting with state power Seaside that was the test that this iteration of Banks basketball needed to find their place amongst the state's elite — and they passed with flying colors.
In a game of runs, the Braves — led by Tyler Exline — made the last one, outscoring the visiting Seagulls 35-16 in the fourth quarter en route to a 73-60 win on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Banks High School.
Exline — who finished with 21 points — made five 3-pointers in all, including four as part of a 20-3 run to start the fourth quarter. The junior big man who has missed the bulk of the basketball season due to a football injury last fall, hit two free throws to start the quarter, then caught fire, igniting the packed home gym with every successful shot.
"It was kind of a coming out party for him," Banks head coach Marc Roche said. "He came back at the beginning of league play, but we've been limiting his minutes. He's been getting progressively better every game, doing more, but tonight he was just a different animal."
Seaside head coach Bill Westerholm too — obviously — acknowledged Exline, but also noted — accurately — that the game was a game of runs as well.
"It was definitely back-and-forth," he said. "We had our run in the first quarter, they had one in the second, we came back with one in the third, but then Exline started hitting shots and that was that.
"Sometimes when you play at home, you get hot and a lot of shots go in."
And they were early for the Seagulls, as the visitors jumped out to a 19-11 first quarter lead on the backs of senior wings Brayden Johnson, Beau Johnson and Stephen Snyder, who combined for all 19 of Seaside's first quarter points.
The lead grew to as many as 14 points in the second before Banks made a run of their own, outscoring the Gulls 19-7 en route to a 30-29 halftime lead.
On a night when standout guard Jarred Evans didn't seem to have his best, the Braves got key contributions in the first half from Jacob Slifka, Caiden Taylor, and Charles White, who finished with 10 points and 10 very big rebounds. Many of which came in the opening two quarters.
"Charlie (White) played a huge roll tonight," Roche said. "He was ripping boards and set a huge tone, allowing us to continue to play small and be skilled on the perimeter."
Seaside again started strong in the second half, building an 8-point lead before a White bucket made it 44-38 Seagulls to end the third quarter.
That's when Exline took over.
The junior made a pair of free throws to start the fourth, then the Braves tied the game, 44-44, after buckets by Slifka and Taylor. Following a failed Seaside possession, Exline gave Banks the lead with a long three, followed that with a second triple after the Seagulls' Brayden Johnson answered with a 3-pointer of his own, then hit a third and fourth to the delight of a raucous Braves crowd, putting Banks ahead 58-47 with 4:26 remaining in the game.
"It was crazy, and fun to watch," Roche said. "He (Exline) worked so hard in the offseason. Then to see his football season end the way it did, it was awesome.
"He brings a lot to this team. Not just with scoring, but with rebounding, his overall IQ, and his leadership."
The Banks lead grew to as many as 16 from there, thanks to big buckets by Slifka and a handful of clutch free throws by Jack Walker that ultimately iced the game. Yet, despite the double-digit win, don't think for a second that this game wasn't tightly contested, nor that Seaside won't be a formidable opponent for the Braves down the road.
"Credit to them," Westerholm said. "We got a little stagnant during their runs and we may have taken some ill-advised shots on a couple occasions, but we'll be alright. These two programs will be battling for a lot of years to come."
Roche agreed that Seaside is kind of the standard by which they measure themselves, which is why this was always going to be a curious game from the start, and also why it was such a quality performance for a team which still a bit untested.
"We gradutated seven seniors and four starters from last year, and while we've made some good progress and had some good wins, we work all offseason in an effort to win games like this," the Banks coach said. "Seaside's always kind of the standard. They've been to the state championship game four years in a row, so that's something that's constantly on our mind.
"It was fun to see the guys rise up when things weren't going well and keep plugging away when a lot of teams would've folded. It was a sign of maturation for these guys."
With the win, Banks improved to 13-5 overall and 4-0 in Cowapa League play, sitting alone in first place, a game ahead of the Seagulls.
In addition to Exline's 21 points, Slifka finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, White had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Walker had 8, Evans 7, Taylor 4, Cooper Gobel and Joseph Buliga 2, and Brett Voss 1.
Seaside was led by Brayden Johnson's 16, Beau Johnson's 15, Snyder's 14, and Derrick Bennett's 2.
Banks will next play at Tillamook this Friday, Feb. 7, at Tillamook High School.
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