Horizon Christian boys sprint past Gold Beach in tourney opener
SALEM — The Horizon Christian High School boys basketball team entered play at the Crusader Classic New Year's Invitational with the goals of getting better as a team and, oh yeah, winning the tournament.
Well, it certainly seems as though the Hawks accomplished both of those aspirations. Horizon Christian got off to a roaring start at the event, running to a 71-42 win over Gold Beach, and then went on to win title at the tourney held last Thursday through Saturday at Salem Academy.
"It was good," Horizon Christian guard Cade Tillema said following the first-round tourney win over Gold Beach. "We played very well in the first half. In the second half, we kind of let it get away from us, but, considering what it was, it was good. We're just coming out here to play our hardest. We want to win (the tournament). We're justing going to have to play hard, shoot well and not turn it over."
"We played well as a team, which was one of the things we wanted to work on," Horizon Christian senior guard Connor Zralka said. "We're trying to work on coming together as a team, playing all together, and these games will help us with that."
Gold Beach moved to 5-5, at that point, with the setback. With that win, along with its other two tournament victories, Horizon Christian improved to 9-4.
"We just keep improving each game, and that's kind of the goal," Zralka said.
The Hawks got off to a flying start in Thursday's tournament opener. Horizon Christian senior Kyle Free sank four 3-point baskets in the first 5 minutes and 8 seconds of the contest. The Hawks also got a layup by Zralka, coming off an assist by Tillema following a steal, a dunk by Zralka and a steal and layup by junior Max Peterson, as they grabbed an 18-0 lead with 2:02 remaining in the first quarter.
From there, Horizon Christian got baskets by Zralka and Tillema and a 3-point play by senior Travis Schiele, giving the Hawks a 25-6 advantage at the end of the opening period.
In the second quarter, Horizon Christian got five points from junior Marcus Stetzel, four from Tillema, coming on a pair of drives to the basket, and a 3-pointer by Peterson, as the Hawks upped the margin to 45-19 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Horizon Christian seemed to definitely tighten down on defense. Gold Beach scored one point in the period, while misfiring on all 11 of its shots from the field. Meanwhile, Zralka scored six points, and Schiele had three rebounds in the period, as the Hawks took a 57-20 lead into the fourth quarter.
Peterson and senior Will Shelby each made a 3-pointer for Horizon Christian in the final stanza. Gold Beach, which struggled on offense in the first three quarters of the contest, made six 3-pointers in the fourth, helping the Panthers close the final margin to 71-42.
"We were just hitting our shots," Tillema said of the win. "We hadn't been doing that very well, so far this season, but this game we really hit our shots."
Free led a balanced Horizon Christian scoring attack in the victory with 16 points. Zralka, the Hawks' leading scorer on the season, had 14 points, on 6 for 9 shooting from the field, while also having 10 rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
"Tonight was one of those games where I felt like I didn't have to go out and score a bunch of points," he said. "I was trying to hit everyone, and I think everyone scored, so that was a good thing for us."
Peterson and Tillema each scored 10 points, with Tillema mainly getting his on aggressive drives to the basket.
"I haven't been doing that this whole season, so I decided this game to try and do that more," he said.
Schiele added nine points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
Horizon Christian, as a team, made 27 of 55 shots from the field, with seven 3-pointers, and 10 of 11 free-throw attempts. The Hawks also outrebounded Gold Beach by a 36-18 margin.
Senior Eli Halcumb lead Gold Beach with 17 points. Senior Jonny Moore added 12 for the Panthers.
Gold Beach, as a team, made 13 of 39 shots from the field, with 10 3-pointers, and six of 14 free-throw attempts.
In Friday's tournament semifinal round, Horizon Christian posted a 49-45 win over the host team from Salem Academy. In Saturday's title game, the Hawks got a 55-46 victory against longtime rival Dayton.
Horizon Christian is looking for the tournament success to provide momentum as it heads back into Lewis & Clark League play, where the Hawks currently are 2-0.
"We are looking to win league," Zralka said. "That's our first goal. We're going to take it one step at a time."
Horizon Christian will be back in action on Wednesday, when it plays at Westside Christian in a league game starting at 6 p.m. On Thursday, the Hawks will travel to Riverdale for a 6 p.m. league contest. Horizon Christian will be at home on Saturday to face Catlin Gabel at 1:30 p.m.