The young Horizon team's late rally comes up just short

SALEM — Now that was close.

How close?

How about one one point, one shot and just a second or two.

That’s all that seemed to stand between the Horizon Christian High School boys basketball team and the championship of the Crusaders New Year’s DAN BROOD - FIRING AWAY -- Horizon Christian guard Trent Pihas goes up high to shoot over Cascade Christian's David Sellers in Saturday's game.

The Hawks saw their last-minute rally come up just barely short at they were edged 54-53 by Cascade Christian in the championship game of the eight-team tournament held Saturday at Salem Academy.

“It was a good game, for sure,” Horizon Christian junior point guard Trent Pihas said after the contest. “We came into it defensive minded. That got us going.”

“It was a physical game,” Horizon Christian senior post Parker Belan said. “I think that was good for us. We haven’t played a physical team, yet. This was a good learning experience.”

With the win, Cascade Christian, the No. 4-ranked team in the latest Class 3A coaches poll, improved to 9-2 on the season.

Horizon Christian, the No. 8-ranked team in the Class 3A coaches poll, moved to 5-4 at that point on the season with the setback.

“They’re a real good club,” said Horizon Christian coach Dave Brown, who picked up career coaching win No. 695 earlier in the tournament. “But I love the way our team fought back.”

And the Hawks had to fight back right from the start of Saturday’s tourney title game.

Cascade Christian, connecting on its first three shots of the contest, jumped out to a 7-0 lead before the game was even a minute and a half old.

Horizon Christian came storming back.

Junior guard Noah Jones started the early rally with a three-pointer and a basket on a 15-foot jump shot. Senior guard Connor Marleau followed with a jumper to tie the game at 7-7 with 4 minutes and 26 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Horizon Christian, getting baskets from Jones, Belan and senior post Isaiah Hall, went on to claim a 15-14 lead at the end of the period.

The Hawks, behind the play of Jones and Pihas, kept rolling in the second quarter. Jones sank another three-pointer and had seven points in the period. Pihas had six points and three rebounds in the period. His steal and layup gave the Hawks their biggest lead of the game, at 31-25, with 42 seconds left before halftime. Horizon would go on to hold a 31-27 lead at the intermission.

Things seemed go be going well enough for the Hawks early in the third quarter. They held at 37-34 lead after Pihas sank a short-range jumper off an assist from Marleau with 4:25 left in the period.

But Cascade Christian took charge from there.

The Challengers, led by Seth Knox and Dalton Palmer, scored the game’s next 11 points to claim a 45-37 lead. A last-second basket by Pihas cut the margin to 45-39 going into the fourth quarter.

Cascade Christian then got a three-point play from Christian Kammerzell to open the final stanza, giving the Challengers a 48-39 DAN BROOD - GOING UP -- Horizon Christian junior Noah Jones goes up to the basket in front of Cascade Christian's Kenny Laws during the title game of the Crusaders New Year's Invitational, held Saturday at Salem Academy.

Horizon, getting a basket by Jones, a three-pointer by Pihas and a free throw from Belan, cut the lead to 48-45 with 4:17 remaining.

But Cascade answered back. The Challengers scored six straight points to take a seemingly-safe 54-45 lead with 2:12 left to play.

But the Hawks weren’t done yet.

Jones drilled a three-pointer and followed that up with a steal and layup to make the score 54-50 with 44 seconds remaining. Five seconds later, Cascade Christian was whistled for a traveling violation.

Horizon Christian took advantage of the turnover, as Pihas, under heavy pressure, swished a three-pointer to cut the lead to 54-53 with 30 seconds left to play.

The Hawks defense then came up big, forcing the Challengers into an over-and-back violation with 12.9 seconds remaining.

Pihas’ last-second shot from 18 feet away hit the rim, and Marleau’s running tip-in attempt was also off the mark, leaving Cascade Christian with the win, and the tournament championship.

“We had that cold spell in the third quarter,” Brown said. “We just got out of rhythm.”

Pihas led all scorers in the game with 22 points, coming on a 9 for 16 shooting night. He also dished off three assists.

Jones made eight of 16 shots from the field on his way to scoring 21 points. He also had five rebounds. Belan had five points and four rebounds.

Horizon Christian, as a team, had just four turnovers in the contest.

Knox and Aaron Cesaro led Cascade Christian with 10 points apiece.

Horizon Christian opened the tournament last Thursday with a 45-43 win over Rainier. Pihas had 23 points in that contest, including the game-winning basket at the buzzer. Sophomore post Jace Prinzing topped the Hawks in rebounding.

In Friday’s semifinals, Horizon bested Sheridan 67-43. Jones had 25 points in that game. Pihas and Belan each added 12 points, with Belan also topping the team in rebounds.

On Tuesday, Horizon Christian opened its West Valley League schedule by scoring a 67-33 win over Willamina in a game played at Willamina High School.

The defending Class 3A state champion Hawks, maybe lacking the superstar-type players they’ve had in the past, are now looking to keep getting better as the season goes on.

“The season is going good,” Belan said. “We’ve got some new faces, but we’re still a tight-knit group.”

“We’re getting a lot more unselfish,” Pihas said. “We trust each other and we trust that coach Brown knows what’s best for us. The potential is there, we just need to put the pieces together.”

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