The Gervais boys basketball team entered the 2019-20 season with one goal: Qualifying for the league playoffs.
Now, after going 1-2 in the penultimate week of the regular season, the Cougars are on their way.
With two games left to go before the standings set, Gervais is already in an elimination mindset, needing to win out its remaining games for a chance to earn the fifth and final seed in the 2A Tri-River playoffs.
Gervais sits two games behind Culver for fifth place in the conference standings, but can gain a game on the Bulldogs when the two teams face off in Culver on Tuesday.
The Cougars finish the regular season at home against Delphian, while the Bulldogs travel to No. 3 Western Christian.
Should Gervais and Culver finish tied, while splitting their season series, the two teams will play in a tie-breaker to determine which program ultimately finishes fifth in the league standings and advances to the Tri-River tournament.
The Cougars wouldn't be in this position if not for the team's 53-43 win on Wednesday, Feb. 5 against the visiting Colton Vikings. The two teams had played to overtime in their first contest, with Gervais pulling out a five-point victory. In the rematch, the Cougars made sure to put the game away in regulation.
"It was good to see them playing together as a team," head coach Ben Schultz said. "They talked about that in the locker room that they didn't get down on each other in there. The dynamic has changed. It's more of a team effort, and it starts on defense."
The 43 points allowed was the third-lowest this season for Gervais and the best they've done against a Tri-River opponent this year. Schultz said that the Cougars had put up strong defensive quarters in the past, but had trouble linking together four straight periods of defensive effort.
"Santiam, we held them to 22 points in the first half. Kennedy, we held them to 19 points in the first half," Schultz said, calling back to a pair of blowout losses the week before. "Our defense has to play those four quarters.Slowly but surely we're getting there. We know that we can make a playoff push now."
With senior post Alex Kalugin unavailable for the game and potential for the remainder of the season, junior wing Michael Toran took on the role as lead scorer for Gervais, scoring 19 points and connecting on three 3-pointers.
Kalugin's absence paved the way for additional players to carve out larger roles, with seniors Jack Reinwald and Tyler Studer and soaking up minutes, scoring 10 and four points, respectively.
Schultz leaned on other players as well, with freshman guard Jose Esquivel filling in the lead playmaker role with starter Daniel Hernandez getting into foul trouble in the second half.
"He is a great player, he doesn't play like a freshman," Schultz said. "His IQ is well and I have no problem putting him in there in the late third and the fourth."
Gervais (7-16, 4-10 2A Tri-River) bookended the week with a 72-38 loss to Sheridan (16-6, 10-4) on Monday, Feb. 3 and a 73-21 loss at Western Christian (21-3, 15-0) on Friday.
But the real test is this week.
Gervais was scheduled to tip off against Culver (7-15, 6-8) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Cougars' final home game against Delphian (4-15, 2-12) is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.
GERVAIS 11 15 11 16 — 53
COLTON 16 8 9 10 — 43
Gervais — Toran 19, Reinwald 10, Hernandez 7, Guido 6, T. Studer 4, Limage 3, Ramon 2, Esquivel 2
Colton — Tiano 13, Johnson 11, Edington 8, Earls 7, Rogers 4
Gervais — Toran 3, Reinwald 2, Hernandez 1
Colton — Tiano 1, Earls 1, Johnson 1
Gervais — 9/18
Colton — 8/12
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