Like in life, sports often don't go as planned.
After winning a share of the Cowapa League regular season title, earning the league's number one seed with a tiebreaking victory over rival Seaside, and in the process securing a home game to kick-off the OSAA 4A state playoffs, the Banks boys basketball team was poised to defend last year's state title at this coming week's state tournament. Sadly for the Braves that won't happen following a 52-50 loss to No. 12-ranked Stayton Saturday night, March 7, at Banks High School.
"It's disappointing, but credit to Stayton," Banks head coach Marc Roche said. "I told the guys during the week that Stayton was good enough to beat us if we didn't play well. They're well coached, they're tough, and Axmaker went off."
"Axmaker" is Stayton's guard Jacob Axmaker, who finished with 18 points, but in addition to the sophomore, it was senior Logan Classen who dealt the Braves the lethal blow, scoring to give the Eagles the lead with 5.1 seconds remaining in the game.
With the game tied 50-50 and the clock ticking down, Classen drove the right side and banked-in a 10-footer to put the visitors in front.
"We were supposed to run an actual play," Classen said, "but I just saw a gap when one of the guys cleared out, so I said, 'I'm just going to take it.'"
After a timeout, Banks inbounded the ball and called a second timeout in the frontcourt. Inbounding from the side with 2.8 seconds on the clock, the Braves looked inside, but with the lane clogged they inbounded to the top of the key and what was previously scripted turned into a broken play. Braves senior Jarred Evans ended up with the ball in the corner and let one fly at the buzzer, but the shot was off the mark and Banks' title defense was no more.
"I was by no means ready to talk to these guys about an end of season speech," Roche said. "I don't think that was on anyone's mind, but that's sports. It doesn't matter who's better, it's who's better that day."
The magnitude of the win didn't escape Classen, who was humbled by the moment and nothing but complimentary of Banks and their program in victory.
"This is crazy," he said. "They're a great team with great players and great coaches. To come into their place and win is nuts."
Banks led early 9-2 thanks to seven quick Tyler Exline points, and led 15-8 after a quarter. Stayton got a quick basket from Gabriel Wigginton to start the second, then tied the game 15-15 when Axmaker scored five straight. From there it was the Jacob Slifka show, as the senior standout scored the next 10 Braves points, including the final two of the quarter to give Banks a 25-23 lead at the half.
The Braves played much of the first half without starting guard Jarred Evans, who was forced to sit after picking up three quick fouls. Roche downplayed his absence to an extent, but did acknowledge the possibility of building an early lead with the standout on the floor.
"We had a two point lead at the half and still felt pretty good about things," the coach said. "But maybe that's a bigger lead at that point if he doesn't have to sit that second quarter."
Joseph Buliga scored Banks' first three points of the second half, but Stayton rallied to score 11 of the first 14 to go up six, 34-28, after five straight from Axmaker. The Eagles guard was a thorn in the Braves' side all night, always getting baskets and making plays when they mattered most.
"He really hurt us all game, but really hurt us down the stretch," Roche said. "He's the one guy on their team that can really stretch the floor and he was good."
The Braves battled back to tie the game, and trailed by just two, 38-36, at the end of three quarters.
Axmaker hit a three to start the fourth, and the Eagles methodically built their lead to eight, capped by a Bryce Whieldon 3-pointer with 3:07 left. However there was no quit in Banks, and after getting a quick bucket from Slifka, another from Buliga, and a baseline three from Evans, Banks was within 49-48 with 1:35 to play. Axamaker added a free throw to put Stayton up two, then when Slifka tied the game 50-50 with 35 seconds remaining, the scene was set for what would be Classen's game-winner.
Despite the loss, Roche was quick to speak to the success of this year's team, and more specifically to the seniors that have been a part of a historically successfully stretch for the school.
"It's always tough to see seniors go, but what an awesome group of just great guys," Roche said. "Slifka will go down as one of the top players in our program's history, Evans has been a defensive stud, Caiden's (Taylor) shooting really helped us off the bench, and Charlie (Harris) doesn't get to play much, but is just a quality guy. It's a special group and it'll be tough to replace those guys on the floor."
Banks scorers included: Slifka 21, Exline 10, Buliga 8, Charlie White 4, Evans 3, and Cooper Gobel 3.
Stayton scorers included: Axmaker 18, Whieldon 9, Classen 7, Derek Berning 7, Ben Rash 5, Gabriel Wigginton 4, and Jonathan Daniels 2.
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