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'We knew we had it in us'
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By JAYSON JACOBY
CORVALLIS Luke Sells' left hand launched the ball on a graceful arc that lasted less than two seconds yet managed to fulfill, finally and decisively, the basketball dream that had tantalized the Baker Bulldogs for 69 years.
The ball nestled in the net, suspended in the briefest of nylon hugs, then it slipped through and bounced off the polished wood floor of Gill Coliseum.
Sells' shot was a three-pointer.
But no ordinary three-pointer.
His three points boosted Baker's lead over the Stayton Eagles to 41-29 with four minutes and thirty-seven seconds left in the Oregon Class 4A boys basketball championship game Saturday night.
Stayton Coach Jamie McCarty immediately called a timeout.
In the seats above, where about 200 Baker fans screamed their throats raw and clapped their hands red, the feeling that had begun to percolate a few minutes earlier became palpable the belief that this game, this season, were different.
Sells' three-pointer capped Baker's 15-0 run, a streak that secured the Bulldogs' 59-45 win and the school's first state basketball title since 1938.
"It feels great," Sells said after the game, surrounded by throngs of red-cheeked, raucous fans who rushed onto the court after the final buzzer to celebrate with the players.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet, I don't think," said Matt Duman, Sells' teammate and fellow senior.
"I really don't know if we know what we just did," said a third senior, Grant Johnson, who must have been nearly as exhausted by all the hugs and handshakes he dished out during the post-game festivities as by the 13 rebounds he had hauled in during the game.
What the Bulldogs did, Baker Coach Craig Woods said, was exactly what they had done all season execute their plays with precision and confidence.
"I changed my philosophy about that a couple of years ago," Woods said. "We used to run a huge number of plays. Now we don't run a whole heck of a lot but we run them well."
And they did so again Saturday, despite Stayton's frenetic full-court defense.
Baker's ball-handing was solid. Johnson, Travis Mastrude, Lowell Curtis and Mark Bunch each brought the ball upcourt despite Stayton's relentless pressure, several times escaping a two- or even three-man trap.
"They don't get rattled," Woods said of his players. "The keys are our seniors. They're so patient, so consistent."
There are five seniors on Baker's 12-player roster Sells, Johnson, Duman, Curtis and Justin Grigg.
Those five combined to score 47 of Baker's 59 points in the championship game.
Sells, who was named to the all-tournament second team, scored a game-high 16 points, including nine in the fourth-quarter.
Johnson and Duman, both of whom earned first-team honors, scored 11 points each.
Curtis added six points and Grigg three.
"We knew we had it in us," Duman said.
The Bulldogs also knew that Stayton was pretty good.
Of particular concern was the Eagles' senior guard, Cody Britton.
Britton made seven of his 10 three-point tries and scored 26 points to lead Stayton to a 61-37 win over Tillamook in a semifinal game Friday.
Baker started the championship game playing a two-three zone defense a strategy that often gives the opponent open shots from long range.
After Johnson scored on a drive to give Baker a 2-0 lead just 11 seconds into the game, Britton demonstrated the danger of a zone defense, swishing his first three-pointer.
But he wouldn't make his second until late in the third quarter.
Baker persisted in playing zone defense, in effect daring the Eagles to shoot.
Stayton obliged, trying 13 three-pointers in the first half alone.
The Eagles made just two.
Johnson said he knew the zone defense was risky, considering the sharpshooting show Britton had put on the night before against Tillamook.
But Johnson said the Bulldogs didn't simply stand and watch while Britton and the other Eagles took aim.
"We were flying around, trying to get in his face," Johnson said. "And we did. It's hard to shoot when there's someone in your face."
Britton made three of 15 three-pointers.
On the other end of the court, meanwhile, Baker employed its customary deliberate offense. Woods designed plays that take advantage of Johnson's and Duman's ability which is unusual for post players to make difficult passes that frequently lead to easy shots.
"I enjoy passing more than shooting," said Johnson, who had four assists Saturday and led Baker in assists in each of the Bulldogs' three state tournament games.
Johnson's 18 total assists was the second most of any player in the tournament.
"I just like the challenge of trying to see the open lane and fitting the ball through it," Johnson said. "Duman and I just have good chemistry."
Baker tried just 12 shots in the first half of Saturday's championship game but the Bulldogs made seven 58 percent.
Stayton, by contrast, hoisted more than twice as many shots 27, including the 13 three-pointers. The Eagles made just five of those shots, though, 19 percent.
Baker didn't allow the Eagles many second chances, either.
The Bulldogs outrebounded Stayton 38-23. Johnson, who led all players in the tournament with 38 rebounds in three games, snared 13 during Saturday's championship contest.
Baker led 21-16 at halftime.
Stayton unveiled a new tactic in the third quarter and it worked well but only briefly.
Rather than settle for heaving three-pointers as they did during the first half, the Eagles started dribbling into the lane and attacking the three players who make up the back row of Baker's zone defense.
Scott Rooney and Michael Abbott scored consecutive baskets, both on drives into the lane, to trim Baker's lead to 22-20 with one minute gone in the third quarter.
After Duman made one of two free throws, Rooney scored again inside, and this time he also drew a foul on Sells. It was Sells' third foul.
Rooney missed the free throw, but on Stayton's next possession Jason Gower made a short jumper and was fouled by Mastrude.
Gower also missed the bonus free throw, but Stayton had taken its first lead, 24-23, since late in the first quarter.
Equally troubling for Baker was that, with five minutes left in the third quarter, three starters Johnson, Sells and Mastrude each had three fouls.
As it turned out, though, Duman was the only Bulldog who fouled out. Both his fourth and fifth fouls were offensive charges that caused many Baker fans, and Duman himself, to shake their heads in wonderment.
Stayton, however, had its own foul troubles.
The Eagles committed their seventh foul of the second half with 3:11 left in the third quarter. From then on Baker would shoot free throws after each Stayton foul (except certain types of offensive fouls).
Britton's second three-pointer gave Stayton a 29-26 lead with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles never led again.
Sells was fouled while making a layin, and he converted the bonus free throw to tie the score at 29 with 2:31 left in the third quarter.
Baker scored the next 12 points five each by Johnson and Sells to put the Eagles away.
Johnson started the run by rebounding Mastrude's missed three-pointer and scoring.
Johnson made one of two free throws to push Baker's lead to 32-29 after three quarters.
Johnson scored again 14 seconds in the final period, and Curtis and Sells followed with a pair of free throws each to extend Baker's lead to 38-29.
Stayton was forced to foul, and the game devolved into a repeating sequence of Stayton foul followed by Baker free throws. A few of those fouls seemed more suited to a sport in which the players don pads and helmets. Gower's takedown of Mastrude, for instance, looked more violent than some of the tackles Mastrude endured on the football field last fall.
The Bulldogs made 20 of 29 in the second half 69 percent, and a dramatic improvement over their dismal 10-for-25 performance during Wednesday's win over La Salle.
During the game's final, slow-moving minute, the Baker students chanted "it's all over," then "that's for Mayce," the latter honoring Mayce Collard, the 16-year-old BHS sophomore who died in a car crash Feb. 4 near Baker City.
Baker 10 11 11 27 59
Stayton 10 6 13 16 45
Baker (59) Sells 4-7, 7-10, 16; Duman 3-5, 5-8, 11; Johnson 4-4, 3-5, 11; Mastrude 2-7, 4-5, 9; Curtis 1-2, 4-5, 6; Grigg 0-1, 3-4, 3; Bunch 1-1 0-0 2, Shildknecht 0-1, 1-3, 1; Martin 0-1, 0-0, 0; Baxter 0 0-0 0; Blankenship 0 0-0 0; Woods 0 0-0 0. Totals 15-29, 27-40 59.
Stayton (45) Britton 4-18, 3-3, 14; Lackner 3-6, 2-2, 8; Abbott 3-5, 0-0, 6; Rooney 2-4, 0-1, 4; Esparza 0-1, 4-4, 4; LaFollett 1-4, 0-0, 3; Ocupe 0-1, 2-2, 2; Gower 1-5, 0-3, 2; Bowers 1-5, 0-0, 2; Hartsell 0-4, 0-0, 0. Totals 15-53, 11-15, 45.
Three-point goals Mastrude, Sells, Britton 3, LaFollett. Rebounds Baker 38 (Grant Johnson, 13). Stayton 23 (Gower, 5). Assists Baker 10 (Grant Johnson, 4). Stayton 9 (Esparza, 4). Fouled out Duman. Total fouls Baker 21, Stayton 31. Technicals none.