CRESWELL’S GAUGE SMITH LEADS THE BREAK AGAINST HARRISBURG ON FEB. 11. Tom Page/For The Chronicle
It was a big, bright week for the Creswell Bulldogs, who honored their boys’ basketball seniors with a 57-43 win over visiting Harrisburg on Feb. 11, and learned late last week that they earned an at-large bid to 3A state playoffs, as the top-ranked team not earning a state seed from their own league.
For the Bulldogs, who finished third in league behind fourth-ranked league champion Pleasant Hill (11-1) and second-ranked Santiam Christian (10-2), ”It was really great to make state playoffs and get that chance to continue competing,” said Head Coach Jesse Thomas.
Before tipoff against Harrisburg on Senior Night, the families of seniors Tayler Forsman, Andrew Spence, Avery Wells and Marquin Robinson joined them on the court as the seniors’ letters of appreciation and favorite basketball memories were read aloud.
All seniors started and played most of the first quarter, which the Dawgs led 9-6. Creswell was up 29-10 at halftime.
”We really blew it open in the second quarter, hitting four threes,” Thomas said.
The seniors also started the second half, and Creswell led 41-26 after the third quarter.
”All of our seniors and younger guys got to play a lot and did a really good job,” Thomas said, noting that everybody who played scored. ”It was nice to get a game when our regular players got a chance to cheer on the guys who don’t get to play as often.”
Solid play on both sides of the ball contributed to the win: ”We shot the ball really well; we got out in transition and executed our offense well, and we did a good job of getting back in our zone defense,” Thomas said.
Forsman paced Creswell with 16 points, four rebounds and five assists. Spence added 11 points and four rebounds; Tyler Frieze had 10 points.
Wyatt Perry scored a game-high 25 for Harrisburg. ”He’s a big, strong kid and we struggled to stop him in the paint,” Thomas said. ”We were pretty effective at guarding everybody else.”
At Santiam Christian on Feb. 13, the Dawgs hounded the Eagles, trailing just 7-12 after one, 22-23 at halftime and 31-35 after three before falling 49-58.
”It was a tough, physical game, but we played really well,” Thomas said. ”We were able to lessen their possessions and we did a great job of spreading out their 2-3 zone. We moved the ball well and were able to attack and get to the basket.”
Fourth-quarter free throws made the difference; only five of SC’s points in the period weren’t from the charity stripe.
”They lived at the line in the fourth quarter. It hurt us, for sure,” Thomas said.
Overall, both teams made hay of the game’s abundance of foul calls: Creswell went 21-for-26 from the line while Santiam Christian was 24-for-32. But there was no overcoming the size differential.
”They’re so much bigger and longer that it was hard to get second-chance opportunities against them,” Thomas said. And after Creswell snatched a 26-23 advantage early in the third quarter, SC responded by switching to a 1-3-1 zone, packing three defenders into the middle.
”After that, our ability to get the ball into the paint against them really went down and we struggled to score,” Thomas said. ”But I’m proud of how we battled; we played them real tough.”
Frieze led Creswell with 13 points; Dallton Dewey added 11, Kai Apo had 10 points and four rebounds, Forsman had seven points and four assists and Austin Gabriel had four rebounds.
Santiam Christian’s Josh Braugher led all scorers with 20.
On Friday, the 14th-seeded Bulldogs travel to third-ranked Dayton for their state playoff game.
”They’re a guard-dominant team, like us; they have a good big (player); probably two or three of their players will make First Team All-League; and they’ve played in all but one state championship game in the last four or five years – so every year, they’re good,” Thomas said. ”But if we go up and play well, we can compete. It will take our best defensive game and we’ll have to play well on offense, but the guys are fired up and ready to go.”