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Bucks post first home state playoff win in school history, face No. 5 Nixyaawii on Friday

Hosting their first home state playoff game in nearly a decade, the St. Paul boys basketball team was eager to get off to a good start against the Eddyville Eagles on Tuesday. PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior Justin Herberger scored a game-high 25 points, including three three-pointers, to lead the Bucks to a 63-47 victory over the Eddyville Eagles in the first round of the 2019 1A state playoffs on Tuesday.

In fact, it was almost too good.

After St. Paul raced to a 15-point lead in the opening half of play, the Eagles closed the gap to five points in the third quarter before the Buckaroos regrouped and put the game away 63-47.

"We came out and we were energized," SPHS senior Justin Herberger said. "Then we got up big on them and we started to relax a little bit."

Herberger led the Bucks with a game-high 25 points as St. Paul claimed its first home state playoff victory in school history. The Bucks previous home playoff games were in 2010 (a 36-35 loss to Umpqua Valley Christian) and 2007 (a 59-45 loss to Lowell). Prior to the 2006 move to six classifications, the 1A state playoffs consisted only of the quarterfinal tournament in Baker City.

"Anytime you can check off records like that, it's big," SPHS coach Todd Swan said. "That's something that the kids will talk about 30 years from now when they're sitting in the stands, and that's exciting stuff to create those memories."

After starting out slow in their league tournament loss to Crosshill Christian on Saturday, St. Paul wanted to make sure it took early control against Eddyville. Herberger and backcourt teammate Jaidyn Jackson scored every point in the opening quarter and the Bucks' defense stifled the Eagles, taking an 11-0 lead after the first eight minutes.

Eddyville picked up its first point on a free throw to open the second period, but St. Paul continued to roll. Broden Learn connected on a three-pointer, followed by a driving layup for Jackson to make it a 16-1 game.

The Eagles finally found their stroke on offense, but the Bucks continued to hold their opponent at a double-digit distance, trading baskets with Eddyville to take a 26-9 with 2:48 remaining in the half. That's when St. Paul's defense started to go soft. Led by junior guard Keagan Spikes, the Eagles went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to single digits with a minute left.

St. Paul bumped its halftime lead to a 30-20 lead on a buzzer beater by Zach Brentano, but Eddyville came out firing in the third quarter, scoring the first five points to pull within 30-25.

"(We) started the game strong and then (we) relaxed," Swan said. "Then Eddyville showed why they're a playoff team and hit some shots and scored 20 in the second quarter. It got our kids attention again."

The Bucks responded in kind. Struggling from three-point range throughout the game, Jackson doubled down on driving inside and picked up a pair of free throws to kick start another St. Paul run. Herberger added a pair of three-pointers on consecutive possessions, while teammates Brentano, Rawley Koch and Eric Diaz got in on the action. By the end of the third quarter, the Bucks had ripped off a 17-3 run to take a 47-28 lead.

"I automatically think to work inside out," said Jackson, who finished with 16 points, all of which were scored in the paint. "Once I start making my inside shots – and I like to do that straight from the bat —once they start kind of adjusting to that, then I go back to the three."

But the Eagles weren't interested in ending their season quietly. Spikes knocked down a pair of triples and a running floater during a late run to cut St. Paul's lead to 51-41 with 3:38 remaining to play. Jackson responded, scoring six points in the final minutes to keep the game out of reach.

"We constantly made adjustments and we kind of slowed down our defense at one point," Jackson said. "Coach just pressed us on that and we got after it."

The Bucks finished the game with an 8-0 run to make it 63-44 before the Eagles hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring the contest to its final margin of victory.

In addition to big nights from Herberger and Jackson, Diaz added eight points, while Brentano and Koch each scored four.

"We moved the ball well tonight," Herberger said. "Anybody on this team can score points if you leave them open."

Spikes led the Eagles with 21 points, followed by 12 from senior post Kurt Faxon.

With the monumental win in the books, the Bucks advance to the second round of the 1A state tournament, where they will play the No. 5 Nixyaawii Golden Eagles (24-2, 12-0 Old Oregon League) at 6 p.m. Friday at Pendleton High School.

A quarterfinalist last year, the Golden Eagles have won eight straight games and boast the state's top 1A offense, averaging 70.8 points per game this year. Nixyaawii's lone losses this season have come against 3A No. 8 Umatilla and Washington Class 2B powerhouse Kittitas High School.

Regardless of the match to come, the Bucks are excited to continue their season and get an opportunity to play for a state quarterfinal berth for the first time since 2009.

"It's awesome," Herberger said. "Swan has been building this program for three years and this is the time when he sees it actually working out for him and what he's built. It's pretty cool."

"It's an exciting feeling to know that you get to continue playing this late," Swan said. "This is something we've worked for ever since day one."

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