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Cougars extend win streak to three games before falling in tourney semifinals

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais junior Michael Toran scored a game-high 13 points in the Cougars loss to Blanchet Catholic in the Green Bracket semifinals on Friday at Salem Academy High School. The Gervais boys basketball team extended its season-best win streak to three games before falling in its final two contests at the Crusader Classic New Year's Invitational, finishing in fourth place of the Green Bracket to kick off its 2020 campaign.

The tournament was a continued step in the right direction for the Cougar program, which last entered the annual event hosted by Salem Academy and Blanchet Catholic two years ago, finishing eighth in a trio of non-competitive blowout losses.

"It was a lot better experience than last time," Gervais head coach Ben Schultz said.

The Cougars entered the weekend expecting to go up against 4A No. 1 North Marion but were left unprepared after their bracket changed on the eve of the tournament, pitting them against the Salem Academy JV team.

With little background on their new opponent, Schultz admitted that his team wasn't in top form against the Crusaders but were able to overcome them with a combination of size and experience.

"We didn't have any way to prepare for them," Schultz said. "We played very sloppily, but being a varsity team and probably older than them, we executed better than them."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais senior Alex Kalugin scored 24 of his teams 48 points in a first-round victory over the Salem Academy JV team on Thursday. The Cougars pulled out a 48-42 victory — the team's third straight after Gervais won back-to-back games at the 2A Preview in Pendleton before the winter break. Gervais' 68-47 win over Weston-McEwen on Dec. 20 and 37-32 win over Heppner on Dec. 21 helped give the team its first consecutive wins since 2017. Combined with the win over the Crusader JV team, the Gervais boys had its first three-game win streak since 2015.

The wins were not just a confidence-booster for the Cougars, but also a big opportunity for the team to build its relationships as only a weekend-long road trip can do.

"It was a great bonding experience," Schultz said. "They had a great time. It really helped us and I think it's going to help us moving forward."

And while the last-minute bracket change wasn't ideal, Schultz was happy with the changes throughout the tournament, as organizers shuffled teams between the three different brackets to keep games competitive and avoid the kind of 50-point one-sided contests that the Cougars experienced last time they were part of the tournament."I enjoy that they did that," Schultz said. "Let's get some more competitive games. It worked out for a lot of teams."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais junior Auggie Guido netted 10 points in the win against Salem Academy JV — the teams third straight victory — but was injured in the follow-up game and sat out the final contest. The Cougars fell 55-35 in the bracket semifinal against Blanchet Catholic on Friday — the second time Gervais has seen the Cavaliers in the past month. The final game came in a 64-37 loss to Cascade Christian on Saturday.

Senior Alex Kalugin had a strong weekend, averaging more than 15 points in the three games, including a game-high 24 against Salem Academy. Auggie Guido had 10 in the win, but was injured against Blanchet and sat out the final game on Saturday.

Michael Toran had a team-high 13 against the Cavaliers and averaged 8.7 points over the tournament.

Gervais (4-7, 1-1 Tri-River) was scheduled to return to league play on Tuesday at Kennedy (6-5, 2-1), followed by a trip to No. 10 Sheridan (8-2, 3-0) on Thursday.

"We're getting ready," Schultz said. "We'll game-plan for Kennedy and get ready for them."

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