Subscribe for 17¢ / day

COOS BAY — The Dayton Pirates earned a chance to defend their Class 3A boys state championship on Saturday night against a familiar foe. After pulling away from rival Santiam Christian 59-47 in the semifinals Friday, they will get a rematch of the 2017 title game versus De La Salle North Catholic.

Fortunately, for coach Ron Hop, the Pirates are going into that rematch after a return to form.

Other than getting the victory in a win over Oregon Episcopal in the quarterfinals, no one in the Dayton locker room was happy with the product on the floor in that game.

That displeasure may not have been limited to the locker room and the bench, either.

Junior guard Braeden Nowlin was hearing from the Pirate faithful, too.

“I had talked to many people after the game and they were saying, ‘Wow, that’s not Dayton basketball.’ So, I had that urge to show them how we play. I didn’t think about it during the game, but I came out to let them see what we could do.”

He and his teammates also knew they had to be much better against their rivals. The Eagles from Santiam Christian had also left them with a bad taste in their mouths from a loss a few weeks back.

“They stuck it to us pretty good,” Hop said. “And, I think our kids realized, ‘Hey, these guys are really good and we’re going to have to play our butts off if we want to get over on them tonight.”

Senior guard Tanner Lewis remembered, and said that loss definitely lit a fire. But, without his team ratcheting up its defensive effort all of that motivation would go to waste.

“We play better defense, and our defense translates into our offense,” Lewis said.

They did, and it did.

The difference showed in the stat sheet. The Pirates held a good Eagles offense to 15-for-56 from the field, and 5-for-26 from 3-point range. And, a rough night at the line (12-22) added to the Eagles’ frustration.

Meanwhile, the Pirates were filling the net, going 19-for-41 from the field and 8-for-15 from beyond the arc. They struggled at the line as well, but slightly less (13-for-19).

Offensively, the ball was moving around, the post was getting involved more, and teammates were finding the always confident Nowlin open for jumpers. He ended-up converting 3-for-7 on 3-pointers on his own and hit three free throws after being fouled on another try.

“Braeden hit some big shots when they tried to go zone,” Hop said. “He was able to hit a couple of deep 3’s, when they went into a 1-3-1 zone, and we were able to get them out of that pretty quickly. Then Tanner had some good drives to the basket and hit some big shots for us.”

Eventually the old-form Pirates proved to be too much for a scrappy bunch of Eagles who kept finding ways to stay close, until that fateful fourth quarter.

The Eagles were within a possession several times

“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Santiam Christian coach Dennis McLain said. “They played really well. Once we got close, they went on a run.”

Lewis led all scorers with 18, while Nowlin chipped-in 14. Zach Baugher led the Eagles with 14.

Now, Santiam Christian will try to bounce back from its disappointment to take on Blanchet Catholic for the third-place trophy on Saturday.

“We’ve got a great team to play tomorrow,” McLain said. “It’s going to be interesting to see who comes out motivated.”

Motivation won’t be an issue for the Pirates, but trying to slow down the lightning fast Knights of De La Salle is another matter.

“They fly around, and it is really key for us to have fundamentals and slow them down a little bit,” Hop said, before adding (with tongue firmly in cheek), “Hopefully, after the first day, and the second day, (the Knights) won’t be as fast on the third day.”