NORTH BEND — With their star player watching from a hospital bed in Medford after having his appendix removed earlier in the day, Cascade Christian outlasted Salem Academy 49-43 in the boys quarterfinals of the Class 3A state tournament on Thursday.
The Challengers will play top-ranked Dayton in the semifinals Friday at Marshfield.
“That was maybe the best win of my coaching career, considering losing my league MVP” veteran Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse said.
Senior Carson Cochran led the Challengers in virtual every category this year, Morse said. Without him, the Challengers relied on their biggest strength, a defense that led Class 3A in fewest points allowed.
“They played with defense and heart,” Morse said. “I said, play solid defense and it will give us a chance in the final two minutes.”
Salem Academy pushed the Challengers to the end, despite being saddled with foul trouble.
When Skyler Williams hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 to go, the Crusaders led 43-41.
But Ben Dunn had back-to-back hoops inside to put Cascade Christian in front and then the Challengers finished at the line, after struggling from the charity stripe all game.
Cascade Christian hit just 20-for-36 for the game, and that was with making most of them down the stretch.
“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot by missing free throws, but we made them when it counted in the end,” Morse said.
The win was emotional, said Dunn, who led the way with 15 points.
“It was definitely hard playing without Carson,” Dunn said. “We wanted to win this game for him.”
The contest was close most of the way. There were nine ties and seven lead changes, but neither team built a substantial advantage.
“We’re the (No.) 4 and (No.) 5 for a reason,” Salem Academy’s Markell Moser said.
“It hurts, but everyone gave their all today and we’re grateful to God we’re here.”
Moser was one of several Salem Academy players in foul trouble, but hit a number of big shots in the second half to keep the Crusaders in the game, ultimately finishing with 15 points. Williams added 14 and they both hit three 3-pointers.
Dunn led Cascade Christian with 15 points, Joel McLemore had 12 and Tyler Cochran hit 10. They all made free throws in the fourth quarter to help the Challengers prevail.
But the clutch shooting was secondary for the Challengers.
“It came down to defense,” Dunn said. “Coach said from the beginning rebounds and defense was going to win it.”
The Challengers likely will need the same effort against Dayton In the semifinals, but they are looking forward to the challenge.
“We’re glad we get to play another game,” Dunn said. “We need to come in and play our game.”
The Crusaders, too, were looking ahead to their consolation game against Horizon Christian on Friday morning.
“We’re not done,” Moser said. “We’ve got to come back against a great team.”