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Every year, I hope the state tournament lives up to expectations.

After all, I spend three straight days in the gyms of host schools Marshfield and North Bend after five days of frenzied preparation for the special sections we produce, so I hope the tournament is filled with good story lines and great games.

This year, the good — make that great — games were many, right up to championship night, when Blanchet Catholic’s girls used a furious rally to beat Dayton and Dayton’s boys fought off a tough challenge from De La Salle North Catholic to win their third title in six years.

There weren’t any overtime games, but several looked like they might be headed that way. By the end of the weekend, five contests had been decided by three points or fewer and several others were close in the final minute.

There were incredible individual performances. There were great team efforts. There were tears of joy. There were tears of heartbreak.

And there were memories created that will last a lifetime.

***

One of the great team stories came on the opening day, when Cascade Christian overcame Salem Academy to reach the semifinals while the Challengers’ best player was sitting in a hospital bed after having his appendix removed.

Playing for a teammate often brings out superb efforts, and the same Challengers squad pushed eventual champion Dayton into the fourth quarter in the semifinals.

On a somewhat related note, I wrote a feature for our first section about Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse, who is well-respected from his nearly three decades as a coach. He showed why I regard him so highly during the game against Salem Academy when he asked the officials to stop the action while his team had an advantage on a fast break because one of the Crusaders was injured on the other end of the floor. He didn’t have to do that, and a lot of coaches (though not necessarily the ones here over the weekend) wouldn’t.

The next night, Dayton coach Ron Hop showed why I respect him so much. Morse was trying to get a Cascade Christian player in during the final seconds so he could experience playing in the state tournament and Hop offered to call a timeout.

The tournament was filled with classy coaches and they are two of the best.

***

I got a pleasant personal surprise during the dinner for the two teams of past participants recognized on championship night.

I knew one of the Coquille players was Kris Klemm, but I didn’t expect to see her parents and brother as well. When I bumped into them, we had a nice visit.

Andy Klemm was one of my favorite teachers and coaches in high school and taught biology classes for all five of my brothers and me. And he and Bits lived in the same neighborhood as we did when our son Michael was born and we loved to stop and visit on walks when we took him out in the stroller before the Klemms moved to the Willamette Valley where they are closer to grandkids.

Randy was a star athlete for the Red Devils who was fortunate enough to play in the state basketball tournament and is a fellow member of Coquille’s Hall of Fame as part a stellar golf team. He’s a school board member in Harrisburg, which is Coquille’s biggest rival for boys sports right now, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s also a great guy.

Of course, the night was for Kris and all her teammates, plus their legendary coach George Johnson. It was a nice honor for those Red Devils and the Mac Hi champions from 1959. Honoring the past teams is one of my favorite parts of the event.

***

For the first time since 2011, when the tournament returned to the Bay Area, three boys from the same team were voted to the all-tournament first team by the coaches when Dayton’s Zach Bernards, Tanner Lewis and Jalen Flowers were honored.

The other time, it was Dayton, too, with Travis Bernards, Maika Ostling and AJ Hedgecock all picked. That year, Dayton lost the championship game to a Horizon Christian team led by Jordan Tebbutt.

***

For the first time in my career as sports editor, I asked a coach if I could address an entire team.

It came Saturday afternoon after Coquille’s girls, ravaged by illness, had lost to Salem Academy in the third-place game.

The morning after an emotionally draining semifinal defeat to Dayton, coach Tim GeDeros started getting text after text from players who said they were throwing up. Only a few of the girls were close to full strength and a few didn’t last on the court more than a few moments.

The Red Devils never really had a chance against the Crusaders — they couldn’t apply their normal pressure, they couldn’t make an outside shot, they couldn’t get out to cover Salem Academy star Aimee Smith who took advantage on a remarkable 26-point night — but they persevered.

Three primarily junior varsity players were forced into the first meaningful action of their high school careers and held their own. All of them gave their effort to the point of exhaustion.

They weren’t happy to finish fifth for the second year in a row, but I told them I couldn’t imagine being prouder of a team.

***

I also can’t imagine being prouder of the committee that coordinates the tournament every winter. I feel honored to be part of the group that comes together to make this event run so well.

It’s no accident that the state tournament is so highly regarded, and many volunteers help make it so. But it’s the group of school administrators and community members that are the driving force.

I’m not going to name them, because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but since she’ll never let me write a feature about her, I can honestly say that Stacy (McKenna) Farm is the glue that holds the group together.

Though I’m exhausted after the longest work week of my career, I also look forward to doing it all again next year.

Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-266-6041, or by email at john.gunther@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jguntherworld.

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