Sandy boys rally past Tualatin for playoff victory
TUALATIN — Sometimes, it's not how you start, but how you finish that really matters.
And, wow, did the Sandy High School boys basketball team have a strong finish.
The Pioneers, after watching Tualatin keep control for most of the first three quarters of play, came roaring back in a big way in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Timberwolves 20-6 in the period, to get a 65-59 win in a Class 6A state playoff first-round game played Tuesday in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Tualatin High School.
"Oh, this is huge," said Sandy senior Colton Gorski, who scored 10 of his 24 points in the decisive fourth quarter. "I've been in the program for three years, and we haven't got out of the first round, and this is our first (Class) 6A playoff. It's pretty cool that we can prove ourselves and keep moving on."
"It's big. It feels good," said Sandy junior Kaleb Hubbard, who scored a game-high 27 points. "We haven't won a playoff game in a long time, and, coming up to 6A, it really feels good."
With the win, Sandy, the No. 3 team out of the Mt. Hood Conference, and the No. 21 team in the final OSAA power rankings, improved to 17-8 on the season. The Pioneers also advance to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs, where they'll meet Mt. Hood Conference foe Central Catholic in a game to be played Friday at Central Catholic High School.
"It was energy," Gorski said of the key to Tuesday's win at Tualatin. "We started off pretty laid back. We just started off lackadaisical, but we got our groove going and did everything that we needed to do."
Tualatin, the No. 4 team out of the Three Rivers League, and the No. 12 team in the OSAA power rankings, finished its season with a final record of 15-9.
"We had a decent preseason. In the first half of league, we went 2-4 and really struggled," Tualatin senior post Bridger Steppe said. "Then we had a team meeting and talked about our values and what we wanted to do, and went 5-1 in the second half of league. That's something I'm really proud of."
The Wolves got off to a strong start to Tuesday's state playoff game. Tualatin senior guard Caden Dickson sank a 3-pointer to give the home team a 13-9 lead with 2 minutes and 20 seconds left to play in the first quarter. The Wolves went on to hold a 17-15 lead at the end of the opening period.
Tualatin then took off in the second quarter. Juniors John Miller and Sam Noland had back-to-back baskets to open the period, giving the Wolves a 21-15 lead with 7:18 left in the first half.
Hubbard and Gorski tried to keep the Pioneers close, combining for nine points in the quarter, but Tualatin kept pulling away. Timberwolf senior Jason Wisler converted a 3-point play, Steppe sank a pair of jumpers and senior Jack Rose connected on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, coming off an assist by Steppe, giving Tualatin a 35-24 halftime lead.
Sandy, with junior guard Colby Carson making a pair of baskets, trimmed the margin to 47-42 with 2:09 left in the third quarter. But Tualatin pulled away again.
Miller sank a pair of free throws, Dickson had a steal leading to a 16-foot jumper and Miller added a last-second follow-up bucket, giving the Wolves a 53-45 lead at the end of the period.
But the fourth quarter belonged to the Pioneers. Hubbard opened the period with a 3-pointer, Gorski followed with four straight points and Hubbard sank another 3-pointer, giving Sandy a 10-0 run to start the quarter, and its first lead of the game since the opening minutes, at 55-53, with 4:43 left to play in the contest.
"We could sense it," Gorski said. "We could feel momentum going the other way. Shots started going in easier."
"A lot of it had to do with their crowd talking," Hubbard said. "I know that got me going. We were like 'alright, we have to win this.'"
Tualatin tied the game, at 55-55, after Steppe sank a foul-line jumper with 3:30 left to play. But Sandy responded with junior Pierce Roeder scoring four straight points, connecting on a 3-pointer in the process, giving the Pioneers a 59-55 advantage with 2:20 left to play. Sandy would keep the lead the rest of the way.
Tualatin trailed by two, at 61-59, after Miller scored on a drive to the basket with 1:36 left to play, but the Wolves wouldn't be able to score again. Sandy got a pair of free throws by Gorski, who also had a last-second dunk, to close out the Pioneers' come-from-behind victory.
"We played smart," Gorski said of the fourth-quarter rally. "We've been in those situations all year. We're used to it, so we didn't panic."
"It was our energy, especially on defense," Hubbard said. "And we started knocking down our shots, which we didn't do in the first half, and we all started rebounding."
"They got hot, and hit a lot of 3s in the second half," Steppe said. "It was a good game, but it just didn't go our way. It's a tough one to go out on."
Hubbard scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half of the win.
"That felt good, because I had been in a slump lately," he said. "I've been working on my shot, and I just came out and did what I do."
"Even before the game, the coaches said the key to the game was going to be Kaleb," Gorski said. "We needed him to step up because they were probably going to be focusing on me and Pierce for scoring. We tried to set him up as much as we could, and he knocked them down. He really helped us."
Gorski had eight rebounds and three assists to go with his 24 points. Roeder scored six points and Carson had four.
Sandy, as a team, made 24 of 53 shots from the field, with six 3-pointers, and 11 of 17 free throw attempts.
Miller led Tualatin with 19 points. He also had five rebounds. Steppe had seven rebounds to go with his 14 points. Dickson had nine points, four rebounds and three steals. Rose added six points, while senior Derek Leneve and Noland each had four.
Tualatin, as a team, made 25 of 56 shots from the field, with three 3-pointers, and six of seven free-throw attempts.
"It was a fun game, and I'm really happy with our season," Steppe said. "I love all of my teammates and coaches."
The loss marked the final high school game for Tualatin seniors Dickson, Sam Watts, Leneve, Wisler, Cole Spires, Rose and Steppe.