LANGLOIS — Pacific’s boys basketball team has had Wednesday circled on the calendar since December, when the Pirates suffered a two-point loss to Cascade Christian in the Challengers’ holiday tournament.
Pacific avenged the loss to the Challengers in a midweek, nonleague classic Wednesday, beating the visiting Challengers 47-43 in a game that both teams will use as a tuneup for the upcoming postseason.
“It’s nice to play a team like this,” Pacific’s Jack Lehnherr said. “We haven’t played a full game since Christmas break.”
The Pirates, ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A Oregon School Activities Association power rankings, have run through the Skyline League schedule with a string of easy wins, the starters rarely seeing the floor in the fourth quarter.
Against the Class 3A Challengers, they rarely came out, as Pacific coach Ben Stallard used just seven players.
In front of a big crowd, Pacific turned the game in its favor with a big second-quarter run fueled by its defense and then held on late when Cascade Christian hit a flurry of 3-pointers to try to catch up in the final minutes.
“It was a good win,” Pacific’s John Morrill-Keeler said. “I feel like we just came together as a team.”
The Pirates have just two losses this year, the two-point setback to the Challengers and a loss at Western Mennonite, the top-ranked team in Class 2A, in the season opener.
That was Lehnherr’s first game with Pacific’s veteran squad — he transferred from Powers for his senior year — and the team was still figuring out how to play together.
“We’re playing as a team a lot better,” said Lehnherr, who had a game-high 18 points Wednesday. “We’re sharing the ball a lot better. We’re not a selfish team at all.”
The Pirates started relatively slowly, with Lehnherr helping them keep pace with the Challengers in the first quarter with a number of put-back buckets — he scored 13 points on perfect shooting from the field and line during the first half.
The slow start didn't surprise Stallard.
"I knew it would take us a while to adjust to the speed," he said of Cascade Christian's senior-dominated lineup and its man-to-man defense.
Cascade Christian led 10-9 after the first quarter and scored the first bucket in the second quarter, but Pacific then took the lead for good with a 14-0 run.
Lehnherr had a pair of buckets, Justin Hall scored off a pass from Lehnherr, Steven White hit a 3-pointer, Morrill-Keeler had a three-point play and Lehnherr scored again.
The team’s match-up zone defense led to several steals in the run and the Pirates also were making the Challengers work hard for their shots.
Lehnherr said the Pirates had a strong defensive effort.
“We held them to 19 points in the first half,” he said, adding that Pacific’s goal was to limit Cascade Christian’s 3-pointers, which caused problems in the first meeting.
The Pirates led 27-19 at halftime, but Cascade Christian twice cut the lead to four points on 3-pointers in the third quarter. The Pirates responded with free throws from Morrill-Keeler and Josh Engdahl and restored the eight-point lead by the end of the quarter
Morrill-Keeler, Pacific’s 6-foot-8-inch center, had a 3-pointer of his own early in the fourth quarter and Lehnherr scored on a rebound to give the Pirates one final 11-point lead before Joel McLemore had a pair of 3-pointers and Ben Dunn added another to make it interesting late. Ultimately, Cascade Christian ran out of time and Pacific got a big ovation from the crowd as time ran out.
Lehnherr said it was the best home crowd of the season.
“Everyone was excited to come see it,” he said.
The audience included coaches, players and fans from several other South Coast communities who wanted to watch the game.
Cascade Christian coach Brian Morse said it was a great atmosphere, and he’s familiar with good crowds since his mantra has been to play lots of good teams on their floors to help his team prepare for the postseason and get a full schedule with just eight league games.
“We love playing in places like this,” he said.
He had nothing but positive things to say about Pacific.
“That’s a great team,” Morse said. “They play so well together. They play hard.
“The better team won tonight.”
Morse said the Pirates compare favorably with most of the other top Class 3A, 2A and 1A teams his squad has faced this year. Cascade Christian beat the Western Mennonite squad that handed Pacific its first loss and beat Sherman, the team that has gone back and forth with Pacific atop the Class 1A power rankings.
“They are going to be tough (in the playoffs),” he said of Pacific.
Cascade Christian is ranked No. 5 in Class 3A and on the way to the league title in the Southern Cascades League as it tries to return to the Class 3A state tournament in the Bay Area. The Challengers handed Coquille one of its two losses, but suffered recent close setbacks at both Oakland and Creswell when the team was hampered by cold shooting, Morse said.
Cascade Christian was a little under 33 percent Wednesday, with a number of shots altered by Pacific’s pesky defense. McLemore hit four 3-pointers (in 10 tries) and led the Challengers with 12 points, while Dunn added 11.
Morrill-Keeler had 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for Pacific and said after the game that it was nice to avenge the loss, but not the most important thing.
“There was a little vengeance, but we’re out here to get better as a team,” he said.
Pacific has three more league games, starting with a trip to New Hope on Friday, then the Skyline League tournament before what the team hopes is a trip to the Class 1A state tournament in Baker.
The good game against the Challengers during the league season will help, Stallard said.
“We needed it,” he said.
Morse was more than happy to provide it.
“I’m just disappointed more 3A schools didn’t want to play them,” he said.