The matchup that Oregon high school basketball fans have been looking forward to finally took place Saturday afternoon, in a summit meeting of two boys basketball powers.
The defending 5A state champions from Thurston (enrollment 1,143) met the two-time defending 4A champions from Seaside (enrollment 377) in the championship game of the Summit Holiday Tournament in Bend.
And with wins over two ranked 6A teams the previous two days, the Gulls (the real-life “Hickory Huskers”) can now make a strong case to be placed among the "Best in State" at any level, as Seaside topped Thurston 49-45 in the tournament's title game.
The Gulls should certainly be back atop the 4A coaches poll this week, as they rallied from a 31-22 deficit in the third quarter to defeat Thurston in “a classic game,” said Seaside coach Bill Westerholm.
Needless to say, the Gulls have not had many weeks like that in their history.
“Never like that,” Westerholm said. “It's rare for a smaller school to even play the big schools. It was a pretty historic week for our program.
“I called the Summit coach last summer and asked if we could get into their tournament,” he said. “I didn't know how we would do, if we'd go 0-for-3 or what, but I wanted to push the kids, and I knew we'd get three tough games.”
The Gulls opened with a win last Thursday over South Eugene (enrollment 1,371), ranked seventh in the latest 6A poll, followed by a win over 6A Bend (1,558).
“South Eugene took us lightly,” Westerholm said. “They were sitting on their bench watching us before Thursday's game, and you could tell they had that 'who do these guys think they are?' look. But Bend was ready for us, and Thurston knew who they were getting. It was fun visiting with their coach (Blaine Liberatore) before the game, having the 4A champions play the 5A champions.”
In Saturday's game, the Colts just did not have the horses to stay with the well-conditioned Gulls, who trailed the entire third quarter and half the fourth.
While Thurston went cold from the field, Seaside heated up with back-to-back 3-pointers from Payton Westerholm with just under four minutes left in the third period, cutting the deficit to 33-32.
Chase Januik connected on a trey in the opening minute of the fourth, then hit another at the 3:25 mark to give the Gulls the lead for good, 42-40.
While the 6A and 5A schools had trouble shooting free throws throughout the tournament, the Gulls did not. Specifically, Ryan Hague.
The junior wing — who scored 23 the previous night in the win over Bend — scored nine points in the fourth period in Saturday's win, including 7-for-8 at the free throw line (5-for-6 in the final 36 seconds).
“Ryan had a big week, and with Chase and Payton in there, teams have to defend all three,” coach Westerholm said. “It's kind of like 'pick your poison.' All three can score, and they do a nice job of sharing the ball.”
The Seaside players “wanted to win this tournament,” said the coach. “Our hope was to get through to the championship game and play Thurston. We figured they would be there.”
And once there, “we wanted to hold them under 50 points,” he said of the Colts. “We wanted to score 70, but that didn't quite work out.”
Thurston's Isaac Lange — one of the top seniors in the state at any level — led all scorers with 19 points. The 45 points is the fewest the Colts have scored this season.
While Hague, Januik and Westerholm get the points, Duncan Thompson had the tough job of defending the bigger players, which included a 6-foot-8 post from South Eugene, and 6-7 Mason Miller from Thurston.
“Duncan really battled hard inside for us in all three games,” coach Westerholm said, “and coach (Nick) Smith did a nice job of putting together a defensive game plan.”
Gulls 61, Bend 59
The Gulls secured their spot in the championship game with a 61-59 win Friday over the host Bend Lava Bears.
The first half featured four ties and seven lead changes, and ended with Seaside holding a 32-29 lead at halftime. Bend rallied and held a 43-37 lead late in the third quarter.
But the Lava Bears struggled at the free throw line (missing six in a row at one point), and the Gulls didn't.
Hague and Westerholm made four straight in the fourth quarter, and Hague drained a pair of 3-pointers to give Seaside an eventual 55-48 lead, before Bend rallied with a few late scores.
Hague made 3-of-6 free throws in the final minute and finished with a game-high 23 points. After scoring 29 the night before in a win over South Eugene, Januik tossed in 14 points, and Thompson added 10.