COOS BAY — Three times Friday, Dayton’s boys built healthy leads only to see Cascade Christian come back in their Class 3A state tournament semifinal game.
The fourth surge by the Pirates was one too many for the Challengers as Dayton prevailed 72-62 to advance to Saturday’s championship game against De La Salle North Catholic.
Cascade Christian pulled within 47-45 heading to the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Joel McLemore and had four shots to tie or take the lead in the opening minute of the fourth.
But all those missed and then Dayton got red hot from long range, seizing control.
Tanner Lewis and Braden Nowlin hit 3-pointers, Lewis scored inside and then he hit another bomb. The two-point lead was quickly 13 and the closest Cascade Christian got again was nine.
“They’ve got the weapons,” Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse said. “You just hope they don’t go off before the buzzer.”
Cascade Christian pulled within 58-49 but Zach Bernards hit a 3-pointer and Lewis had another inside hoop, followed by his fifth 3 of the game, and the contest was essentially over.
Lewis, who had a career-high 30 points, said the offense was a result of unselfish basketball.
“We were getting in the lane and kicking the ball out,” he said, adding Dayton hopes to get the ball into the lane and kick it out to the hot hand, which Friday was him.
“Some guys stepped up and played good,” Dayton coach Ron Hop said. “Last night it was Bailey (West). Tonight it was Tanner.”
The Pirates hit five 3-pointers in the fourth after hitting four in the first three quarters. All were set up basically the same way.
“We want to play from inside out,” Hop said. “We want to be able to drive the ball. We want to space the floor.
“We’re really good when we pass the ball. We’re a good passing team. When they move the basketball and make the extra pass, guys are wide open.”
Before Dayton’s big surge, the game had the makings of a classic because of the persistence of the Challengers.
Cascade Christian entered the tournament without league MVP Carson Cochran, who had surgery to remove his appendix Thursday. But they kept battling.
“It’s a tough game, but they’ve got some really good players,” said McLemore, who led the Challengers with 24 points, including five 3-pointers of his own. “It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we played our hearts out.
“They played a good game. We kept battling with them.”
Ben Dunn had 12 points and Tyler Cochran 11 for the Challengers, who play for third place against Harrisburg.
“I was really proud of my guys,” Morse said. “They battled hard. We were overmatched.
“Dayton is a great team. It is by far the best team that we’ve seen all year.”
For three quarters every time Dayton made a surge, Cascade Christian would chip away, though the Challengers never got the lead.
They had a seven-point run late in the second quarter, ultimately tying the score at 33 on a pair of free throws by Cochran. But Lewis hit a 3 to end the half and another on the first possession of the third and quickly built another eight-point lead before the Challengers closed to within two again heading to the fourth.
Ultimately, Dayton had too much.
Jalen Flowers was a handful inside with 11 points, making all his shots, for Dayton. Meanwhile, point guard Zach Bernards scored 21 points and had four assists.
Hop said Bernards is not playing at full strength from numerous aches and pains caused in part by the all-out style he plays with. The coach said he might be the best offensive player the school has had in its rich basketball history.
“We get what we can out of him,” Hop said. “It’s too bad he’s banged up. I wish we could have him healthy.”
As he is, he’s a huge difference maker.
Top-ranked Dayton improved to 27-1, the lone loss a two-point setback to Amity. The Pirates returned to the championship game after losing in the semifinals last year.
“It feels great,” Lewis said. “I feel like we could have made it last year. This year, we proved it.”
The Pirates get another shot at the team that beat them in that semifinal contest, De La Salle North Catholic, this time for the title.
Cascade Christian, meanwhile, faces a Harrisburg team that beat it late in the season in the third-place game.