After Portland Waldorf’s Leo Renzema sank a 2-point bucket at the start of the second half, Country Christian found themselves down 19 points on their home court with the momentum firmly in the Wolfpack’s control. The school from Portland had ripped off a 20-7 run from the start of the second quarter to go up big.
What would unfurl from then on was a monumental comeback that saw Country Christian win 59-55. Cougars coach Dawson Nofziger couldn’t remember presiding over a larger come-from-behind victory.
“That’s got to be one of the highest ones,” Nofziger said. “I don’t know that I’ve had one over 15 before, so that is one of them. The third quarter was huge, that wasn’t much coaching, the guys turned it on and did what we usually do to start a game. We were just a little late in waking up.”
Indeed, that third quarter was where the momentum shifted for good in Country Christian’s favor.
After Renzema’s bucket to start the half, Country Christian ripped off a 22-7 run close the gap to within four points at the sound of the third quarter buzzer. Several of the buckets came on fast break opportunities starting with steals on the defensive end. Three separate Cougars got steals that turned into points, including freshman Tyson Smith, and seniors Matthew Weissenbrunner and Malachi O’Connor.
The defensive mindset is what Nofziger says his team’s identity is and, though absent in the first half, was pivotal to the comeback.
“The intensity, the defense, flying around; that’s how we’re usually playing defense,” Nofziger said. “We’re flying around into passing lanes. The first quarter we were playing on our heels. When we’re playing on our toes and we bring the pressure, that’s usually when it works out like that: getting steals, deflections, and easy, fast break points. That was the key.”
Still trailing going into the fourth quarter, the team needed find a way to claw back into the lead, one Portland Waldorf was reluctant to relinquish. As soon as Country Christian would drain a bucket or fight to the charity stripe, the Wolfpack answered in kind.
After fighting to a 50-48 deficit, Country Christian called a timeout to get things in order. Coming out of the break, a crucial 3-point bucket from Smith gave the Cougars the lead at 51-50. It was the first lead in quite some time, and though Portland Waldorf regard control with a pair of free throws, the window was brief.
A pair of free throws from O’Connor and a steal that led to a Rhett Johnson bucket gave Country Christian a 55-52 lead that they would hold onto until the games end. Smith sank four consecutive free throws to give the Cougars a 59-55 lead.
“The way they finished made me happy. They could have easily rolled over, and that’s what I said at halftime. You guys could roll over and it could be 30 points before long, or you can fight. And they fought. That’s all I can ask of them, and that’s what they did.”
The Cougars improved to 9-0 in league with the win. Part of the nine-game winning streak that Country Christian found itself on came from the adversity faced over the month of December, according to Nofziger.
“We took our lumps over Christmas break in non-league stuff, and since then we’ve kind of figured out who we are, found our identity and we’ve been playing into that,” Nofziger said. “The third quarter was kind of what our identity has been, we just forgot that in the first half. It’s been the defense. There’s nights where we can’t score the ball super well, but I can rely on our defense to get stops.”
In the win over Portland Waldorf, Smith led the Cougars with 21 points on 6 of 13 from the floor including 5 of 8 from deep. Johnson chipped in 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal; Weissenbrunner had 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block; and senior Elijah Wallbaum had 9 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and a rebound.
Country Christian wound up falling in the next day’s contest against Open Door Christian Academy (14-2) by a margin of 70-52. The Cougars (14-5) now find themselves a half game back of the league leaders with a 10-1 league record after defeating Trinity Lutheran on Friday.
Tri-Valley girls hoops heat up
After opening the Tri-Valley season with a surprising loss to Molalla, the Gladstone girls basketball team has won three straight to take over the top spot in the league standings.
On the heels of a thrilling 49-45 win over Madras the week prior, the Gladiators defended its home court again last Tuesday, Jan. 24, in a 57-49 defeat of Crook County. Gladstone then went on the road to romp past The Dalles 64-35 on Friday, Jan. 27. Sophomore point guard Ryme Jaekel helped key the Gladiators' smothering defense, coming up with 11 of the team's 29 steals in last week's victories.
Those wins put Gladstone at 3-1 in the Tri-Valley Conference, tied with Madras atop the TVC leaderboard. The Glads enter the week of Jan. 30 as the No. 2 team in the OSAA computer rankings, providing them with the tiebreaker over the 11th-ranked White Buffalos. Gladstone will travel to Estacada to take on the last-place Rangers on Tuesday, Jan. 31, before returning home to seek revenge against Molalla this Friday, Feb. 3.
In Coastal Range League action the Corbett girls handed No. 1-ranked Banks their first loss of the season, defeating the Braves 49-33 on Jan. 26, at Corbett High School. The Cardinals Ally Schimel dazzled, scoring 26 points, 19 of which came in the first half. The two teams are now tied atop the CRL standings with four games remaining in the regular season.
The Banks boys improved to 8-0 in CRL action, defeating Riverdale and Corbett and pulling within a single win of clinching the league title.
In the Lewis & Clark League, the Westside Christian boys missed an opportunity to pull into a tie with De La Salle North Catholic when they dropped their second to the league leaders, by a score of 80-67.
On the girls side, Westside Christian won a nailbiter over Oregon Episcopal 45-44, and are now two games ahead of second place Valley Catholic in the loss column with just four games remaining. Westside is scheduled to play Valley for a second time on Feb. 6, at Westside Christian High School.
In the 4A Cowapa League, the Scappoose girls narrowly missed an opportunity to pull into a tie with first place Astoria, losing 53-48 to the Fishermen on Jan. 25, at Scappoose High School. The Indians now trail Astoria by two games with six games left in the regular season.