Junction City came out as the stronger, more confident, more energized team. They scrapped their way into an early lead, and they even dominated in spurts. The Tigers were taking better shots, playing better defense, and were more organized in the first quarter. They were doing what they had to: being physical in the paint without fouling, not hemorrhaging rebounds, not getting killed in the turnover differential, and they even were able to go straight at the Cascade mountains–Best and Ball–and convert under the hoop.
However, their early success was quickly undone by Cascade’s length, as Dom Ball and Ty Best would consistently sky for rebounds that Junction City had better position to grab. The Cougars got out and ran off of turnovers forced by the Horne twins–in a flashback to their Yamhill-Carlton days–and quickly regained their footing. Momentum in Junction City’s favor dried up quickly, as the Tigers could not even manage to get the ball beneath the three-point arc–much less, the free-throw line–without turning over the ball. The Tigers were playing well enough to win the game defensively, but they were matched in their energy by a Cascade starting lineup that had been in this position before–pushed up against a wall on the state’s biggest stage. Cascade mixed up their defense, employing various zones and presses against Junction City to change up what look the Tigers had to attack, and, in turn, they kept them off-rhythm. The offensive explosion was coming for Cascade, and they just had to keep Junction City off the scoreboard long enough to complete the turnaround. In this effort, the Cougars exceeded expectations.
At the end of the first quarter, the scoreboard read 12-11 in favor of the Tigers; at half, it read 18-12 in favor of the Cougars: yes, zero points for Junction City in the second quarter. Dominant is not strong enough of a word.
In the third, Cascade upped the pressure, extending full-court press more often and for longer stretches. Junction City found initial success in post-to-post action, but it was not to be long-lived. The turnovers that had begun to ail Junction City in the 2nd amplified in the 3rd, the rebound differential became more pronounced, and the Tigers could not force Cascade into taking outside shots. Everything snowballed, and by the end of the third quarter the game was all but over.
Junction City made one last push in the 4th, at one point cutting the Cougar lead down to the 7 point margin they had begun the quarter at, but rimmed out shots, missed transition assignments, and a lack of control of the game as a slower paced team trailing late doomed them. Cascade won, in the end, on their strength: Defense. Undoubtedly the best defensive unit all season, the Cougars showed why on the biggest stage. Specifically, the perimeter defense, where the summer culmination tournament championship game was lost last season for Cascade, was their strength tonight.
Calvin Molan, just 30 years old this week, wins his first state title as a head coach. The Horne twins, Samuel and Spencer, win their second consecutive title, this time at the 4A level. Ty Best, a year removed from competing in the 2A culmination tournament for the Santiam Wolverines, has put his name in the running for state player of the year with his performances in this year’s tournament and begun the discussion of a potential D1 basketball career in his future. Dom Ball, son of former Cascade coach Steve Ball, who coached the Cougars in the 2013 title game, helps finish the job at Cascade that has been 46 years in the making and finishes his storied high school career with a ring. Kellen Sande, long overlooked as a core component of the Cougars’ success in the summer and in this 2021-22 campaign, leads Cascade in scoring in their final contest of the season with 10. Best, the Horne twins, and the injured Rogue Newton will all return to lead a title defense next season.
Craig Rothenberger–the 4th-winningest head coach in the history of Oregon high school basketball–and Junction City, a pairing that has spanned 41 years, will have to wait at least one more year to take home another title.