After AJ Hodge’s 65-foot shot was ruled to be just a fraction of a second after the first-quarter buzzer, one could have looked upon that as being a bad omen for the Bulldogs.
As it turned out, Friday night’s ending was their worst nightmare.
Santiam Christian, after calling a timeout while trailing by two with 3.7 seconds, won 49-48 as Jackson Risinger swished a fallaway 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, spoiling a valiant Creswell comeback.
In the final two minutes of the game, the Bulldogs pretty much put on a clinic: Down 46-42, Max Velarde hit four straight free throws to knot the score with 30 seconds left. Then Connor Hanson stole an inbounds pass and drilled two foul shots, making it 48-46 with 13.3 seconds left and setting the stage for Risinger’s heroics.
Of course, in other stages of the game, the Bulldogs simply struggled.
“Just little stuff that ends up costing us,” Creswell coach Jesse Thomas said. “We dig ourselves a hole – and this has happened a few times this season – and we just haven’t been able to crank up the intensity when we have to have it.
“We need to learn to channel our energy better. It hasn’t really clicked yet, they’re just trying to find it, and everybody needs to find it for the guy next to him.”
Santiam Christian bolted to a 10-0 lead before the sluggish Bulldogs trimmed the lead to 14-12 after one quarter. Behind a solid second quarter, Creswell raced to a 27-23 halftime lead, but a six-point third quarter put the hosts in the “doghouse” again, trailing 37-33.
Velarde led the Bulldogs with 12 points, 4 assists and 3 steals while Carson Williamson contributed 11 points and 6 rebounds. Jack Nguyen hit 5-of-6 shots for 10 points.
The Santiam loss was especially painful because Creswell (9-5, 0-3) is officially the league’s hard-luck team, with two one-point losses to go along with last Tuesday night’s 51-46 loss to Harrisburg.
Thomas said his guys did enough good things to beat Harrisburg, yet still managed to come up on the short end of the stick. They shot 59% from the floor and 80% from the stripe while committing only nine turnovers. However, they shot only 14% (2-for-14) on 3-pointers.
“We saw a lot of positive things out there,” Thomas said, then in the next thought added, “we weren’t doing a good job of getting stops consistently.”
Creswell has been playing shorthanded, and hopes to be back to full strength this week with the expected return of perimeter players Caleb Lee, Chase Green and Asher Parsons.
“When you don’t have all of your guys healthy, it’s tough to be efficient,” Thomas said. “It will be interesting to see how we do with our backs to the wall now.”
At 0-3 in league play, the ’Dogs have only five conference games remaining, and might need to run the table to reach the state playoffs.
Creswell also plays three more non-conference games – at Westside Christian (Feb. 2), at Cascade Christian (Feb. 7) and at North Douglas (Feb. 9).
“If we do well in those other non-league games, we can improve our ranking, so those games may still be important,” Thomas said.
A daunting three-game week awaited the Bulldogs this week, beginning with a home game Tuesday against La Pine. The state’s top-ranked 3A team, Westside Christian (15-1), plays host to Creswell on Wednesday, and Pleasant Hill, which handed Creswell that first one-point loss, entertains the Bulldogs on Friday night.
It could be a dream scenario.