MOUNT ANGEL, Ore. — In a battle between a pair of the Tri-River Conference's best teams, Kennedy overcame the streaking Western Christian Pioneers 62-52 on Thursday, Dec. 9. The Pioneers had entered the game on a five-game win streak, while Kennedy rebounded from a 59-42 loss to Knappa.
"I think our guys definitely came out ready to play," Kennedy head coach Karl Schmidtman said. "Motivated, tried to get our first league win. We know what kind of team Western is, and you have to try and bring good effort. That's one of their calling cards is they tend to play hard, and if you don't match that they tend to walk all over people. We came out with a lot of energy and played really well tonight."
The Trojans leapt out to an early lead in the first quarter, establishing a 23-10 lead after eight minutes of play. Seniors Riley Cantu and Stephan Salinas both went 3-of-4 in the quarter for eight points to pace the home team. The Trojan defense made life difficult for the Pioneers, limiting senior Austin Sladek to just six points and senior Chaz Storm to just two points in the quarter.
"Riley's guarded (Storm) for years, he played at Santiam before and Riley and him have always matched up," Schmidtman said. "Riley knows his tendencies and Storm is great player with great range. You don't see a lot of 6-7 guys with his skillset. Riley definitely keyed in on him to at least limit his touches and make him uncomfortable."
The second quarter saw momentum shift in favor of the road team. Storm recorded eight points in the quarter, including a pair of buckets from beyond the arc. Kennedy went 4-of-11 from the floor in that time with Cantu recording five points to keep the home team in control. By the time the first half came to an end Kennedy led 32-26.
The third quarter was more even, the Trojans outscoring the Pioneers 16-15 in that time. Kennedy junior wing Ethan Kleinschmit led the way with six points, and Salinas chipped in another five points. Kennedy's offense was rolling, but Western Christian found its footing as well. Storm and Sladek combined for 10 points in the quarter. Yet, they were unable to close the gap by the time the third quarter came to an end. Kennedy led going into the fourth and final quarter 48-41.
The Trojans outscored the Pioneers 14-11 in the final stanza, but it was really the teams defense that sealed the deal. Cantu secured a pair of steals on back-to-back possessions for a pair of uncontested, breakaway layups. Kennedy finished the game with a 62-52 victory in hand.
"Riley is just a great athlete," Schmidtman said. "Tonight, on the offensive end he got us under control, he handled the ball all night for us. Then, like you said, he made that defensive run, two consecutive possessions for breakaways. They're a good team, you never know what kind of run they may have in them, so every bucket you get down the stretch is huge."
Cantu finished the high scorer for Kennedy with 22 points, while Salinas and Kleinschmit had 14 and 10 points respectively. Western Christian's Storm finished with 23 points, and Sladek ended the night with 14 points.
Kennedy's Salinas got 9 of his 14 points from beyond the arc, something that coach Schmidtman says is not a mistake.
"Salinas has got the green light, he's one of the best shooters I've ever coached," Schmidtman said. "In practice he lights it up every day. Nobody has worked harder on his game than Stephan. Just a great kid, a leader, a ballhandler, he's a huge part of our season this year, I think."
With the win over Western Christian, Kennedy improves to 2-1 and 1-0 in the Tri-River Conference (TRC). The Trojans will play against Willamina (3-0) on Friday, Dec. 10 on the second night of a back-to-back. The Pioneers fall to 5-1, and 1-1 in the TRC.
While the team is on the right side of .500, Schmidtman still sees room for his team to grow and improve in the coming weeks and months.
"I don't know that we're in basketball shape yet, honestly, and I think that we have room for growth," Schmidtman said. "Both in getting in shape, and last year was a shortened season. We have some juniors that played a little bit of varsity with us last year. But we only had a few practices last year, it wasn't a season of growth. I think that they've got lots of room to keep growing and getting better. They've got huge potential."
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