Union boys and Prairie girls remain in control of their leagues
The best Class 4A boys team in the state played at 5:30 p.m.
The defending Class 3A state champion in girls basketball, with a historic streak on the line, played at 7 p.m.
In different gyms, too.
Please, first game, get done in a hurry.
Please, second game, don’t start on time.
Well, we stayed for all but 16 seconds of the first game, missed the first quarter of the second game, but still got to see a lot of both.
The Union boys, No. 1 in Class 4A, remained undefeated with a home victory over Skyview. The Titans led by 20 in the third quarter but before it would be safe to head across town early, the Storm rallied to within seven points midway through the fourth quarter and had the ball with a chance to make it a five-point game.
Union would regain the momentum and claim a 72-58 victory.
The map on the phone said it would take 25 minutes to make it to Hudson’s Bay. Let’s call it 22-and-a-half.
The first quarter was complete by the time we got in the gym, and nothing had been decided. Still tied between Prairie, the defending champion, and upstart Hudson’s Bay. The two teams were undefeated in league play coming into Tuesday’s game, and it was hyped as a big one, a real possibility for a breakthrough by the Eagles.
Instead, Prairie never wavered under the pressure, continued to get good shots, and knocked them down, pulling away late for a 57-44 victory.
That’s “only” the 213th consecutive league victory for the program.
But it also says a lot about the Eagles. It was a one-point game at the half. A five-point game after three quarters.
Here is a report from the Prairie win, along with observations from the Union victory.
Class 3A GSHL girls basketball
Prairie 57, Hudson’s Bay 44
It was one of the bigger crowds in years for Hudson’s Bay. Prairie coach Hala Corral loved it.
“To see the stands full at a Bay game … parity,” she said. “Anyone can win. That’s what you want. We’ve been dominant for three solid years. I like being dominant. But parity is OK, too.”
Yes, competition is back in the 3A Greater St. Helens League.
Oh, and while the coach noted the last three years, she easily could have gone back two decades. The Prairie girls have not lost a league game since 2000.
Through the years, there have been a handful of close calls. Consider this night one of those.
But Prairie remains Prairie.
“I told them, ‘You’ve prepared for this. Don’t worry about them. It’s just another league game. Play your game. Play like you know how to play, and you’ll come out victorious,’” the coach said. “They executed exactly what we worked on.”
Meri Dunford scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half, Claire Heitschmidt had 16 points, and Dayna Vera had one of her best games of her career with 11 points to lead the Falcons.
“Sometimes it takes us a little bit to get in our groove,” Dunford said. “In the second half, we kind of woke up. ‘OK, let’s go.’ When it comes down to it, we just played hard. We went up strong. We weren’t playing afraid.”
Vera barely beat the shot clock and buried a 3-pointer to give Prairie a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game, she scored eight consecutive points for her team while the Falcons and Eagles were changing leads five times in the second quarter.
Known for her defense, Vera made a statement on offense.
“It was just a really good feeling. It gave me a lot of confidence to know I’m capable of making those shots,” Vera said. “I haven’t always had that confidence in myself. Nice to finally get that and play my game.”
The Falcons turned the ball over just twice in the second half. Allison Corral hit a 3-pointer with 1:40 to play to seal the deal, giving Prairie an 11-point lead. That puts the Falcons at 5-0 in league play, a game ahead of the Eagles.
“It feels good to know we’re right where we want to be, where we should be,” Dunford said. “It’s really, really exciting to keep the Prairie tradition going.”
The Falcons, after all, have heard all the talk, that this could be the year for a different team to win league. The season is not over, but halfway through, Prairie is still Prairie.
“We have a lot of doubters in a lot of people who think we aren’t as good as last year because we lost really good players,” Vera said. “It’s really nice to show them that we are a good team still. Nice to prove them wrong.”
One rule in this family: Vera is the granddaughter of coach Hala Corral and her husband Art. Vera moved in with the family six years ago. She was not a basketball player in her younger years.
“If you’re going to live with us, you’re going to learn how to play basketball,” Hala Corral told her.
Hudson’s Bay: The Eagles will get another shot at Prairie on Feb. 5. Hudson’s Bay has been battling injuries for most of the season but the squad is getting healthy. No excuses for this one, though.
“They played a lot better than we did,” Hudson’s Bay coach Michael Rainville said of the Falcons. “They deserved it.”
Solid sportsmanship: Early in the fourth quarter, there was confusion surrounding the shot clock and the game clock. Fans were voicing their displeasure. It was a tense situation as the officials tried to figure out what went wrong.
It was the girls on the Hudson’s Bay bench who came to the rescue, starting a positive chant. “Eagle Power” was started by the players, and then the home crowd took over.
Earlier in the evening:
4A GSHL boys basketball
Union 72, Skyview 58
The Titans improved to 16-0, and this was the “close” game.
Yeah, Union will take a 14-point victory over a talented team any day.
Union was always in control of this one, but it really did get close in the fourth quarter. The Titans led by 20 late in the third quarter, but the Storm made a run, got the margin down to seven and had a chance to make it a five-point game midway through the fourth.
Instead, Union survived that rush, then got five consecutive points from Kaden Horn to seize the momentum again.
That 14-point margin? That’s the closest game of the 16. And the Titans have played the two-time defending stand champions and last year’s runner-up.
They can do this because they have so many playmakers. We all know about Tanner Toolson and his talent. We know about Brad Lackey and his 40-point game earlier this season.
Those two were on again Tuesday night.
But the Titans are so much more.
Ty McCullum had six points in a quick stretch in the third quarter when the Titans went up by 20.
Horn beat the first-quarter horn with a long 3-pointer, then beat the clock again before halftime with a runner from the baseline. Horn finished with 16 points.
The Titans had a 9-0 run early in the first quarter, then finished that quarter on a 12-3 rush.
Even when they miss, the Titans still have a look of a championship-quality team. In the first half, maybe one shot was “forced.” The others? Open looks out of the offense or drives to the basket. This team is executing its offense, and any coach understands there are going to be times when shots are not falling. If it is a good shot, the coach will take it.
Union is getting good look after good look, even against quality defensive teams.
Toolson, by the way, scored 11 of the team’s first 13 points on his way to 29.
Lackey scored nine of the team’s first 12 points in the second half on his way to 15.
And with 90 seconds left in the game, Toolson crushed any last Skyview hope with a steal and a dunk. That backboard might still be shaking a bit from that one.
Second-half Storm: Skyview will have to use that five-minute stretch at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth on Tuesday for motivation. During that time, the Storm had it going, and going forward the Storm have to believe that it was no fluke.
They lost to Battle Ground and Camas in the first round of league play. They know they will have to beat those teams in the second round just for a chance to finish as the No. 2 seed in the league.
Kyle Gruhler had another big performance, finishing with 19 points. Squeeky Johnson had seven of his 15 points in the Storm’s nine-point run to get back in the contest.
There was life there for a few minutes Tuesday night. The Storm will need more of that in their games with Heritage, Battle Ground, and Camas before hosting Union to wrap up the regular season.