Posted On: 02/28/18 3:02 PM
No state tournament site has the history or legacy as the eastern Oregon town of Pendleton, which has served as the host of the 2A state tournament for over 30 years. Each March, teams, players, and fans from small towns all over Oregon sell out every hotel and most games to make this one of the best atmospheres in high school hoops. We take a look at the quarterfinal match ups and point out some of the players to watch throughout the week. Records listed below are season marks for each team, as well as their record against teams playing in the final 8.
The Match Ups:
#8 Grant Union (18-6; 0-0) vs #1 Western Mennonite (24-3; 7-1)
We were 7/8 in our Sweet 16 predictions, and Grant Union was the one we missed, as they rolled to a convincing win over defending state champion Santiam. The Pioneers are a bit of an unknown, as they don’t have many common opponents with most of the teams from the west side of the state. Their opponent, Western Mennonite is the clear favorite to bring home the blue trophy on Saturday night. Their only loss to a 2A school was a December road trip to Knappa and they emerged undefeated from the deepest league in the state. They are lead by talented sophomore wing Payton Richardson, who is quickly moving up the 2020 class rankings.
Prep Hoops Prediction: Grant Union is the only school from the eastern part of the state to qualify for this year’s final 8 and should have all of the folks on that side of the state pulling for them. That sentiment will only last so long and eventually the talent, depth, and fast pace of Western Mennonite will prove to be too much as they pull away for an easy victory.
#5 Oakland (24-3; 0-1) vs Toledo (20-6; 1-3)
This match up might be the best “old school” vs “new school” pair of the quarterfinals. Oakland is lead by long time coach Jeff Clark who has won 3 state titles in his 20+ years at Oakland. The Oakers, with 7 seniors on the roster, rely on rugged defense and rebounding to wear teams down over the course of 32 minutes. Some would describe it as ugly but very effective! Toledo on the other hand is coached by 4th year man Eddie Townsend and prefer to play a more up and down fast paced game, relying on the perimeter shooting of sophomore guard Connor Marchant. 6’6 freshman post Jaxon Rozewski anchors their zone defense. The Boomers with only 1 senior on the roster, claim an early season win over Knappa as the biggest feather in their cap.
Prep Hoops Prediction: One would expect the 4 vs 5 match up to be the closest of the first round and this game should fit that bill. First game nerves tend to impact the more offensively oriented team, so we’ll go with Oakland in a lower scoring battle.
#11 Vernonia (19-8; 0-5) vs #3 Knappa (23-4; 3-3)
There are no secrets between these Northwest League rivals who have matched up numerous times over the last couple of years. Vernonia picked up a road win over Monroe to make it to Pendleton and is lead by 4 year starter Clay Sullivan, a 6’3 wing who has the potential to carry his team for long stretches. The Loggers are in the final 8 for the fourth year in a row, trips that include a 2016 state title. The Knappa Loggers are back in the quarterfinals after a one year gap and are lead by a pair of talented seniors in 6’3 wing Dale Takalo and 5’10 guard Colton Weirup. The key for Knappa, however may be the play of talented junior guard Timber Engblom who continues to get better & better.
Prep Hoops Prediction: There is an old adage in basketball that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. Knappa has had two fairly comfortable victories over Vernonia this season and we expect them to rebuff the adage, keep Clay Sullivan in check and advance to the semifinals.
#10 Kennedy (16-13; 1-4) vs #2 Columbia Christian (27-1; 5-1)
The Trojans from Mt. Angel may have played the toughest schedule of any team at any level, matching up with numerous Top 15 teams from the 2A, 3A, & 4A levels. Included in this pre season gauntlet was a 47-45 loss at Columbia Christian in December. This schedule prepared them well to go on the road and defeat Pilot Rock to earn a return trip to eastern Oregon this week. Kennedy is one of the bigger teams in 2A, featuring the duo of 6’6 junior post Rocky Carley and 6’4 sophomore wing Emorej Lynk. Their opponent from east Portland is the only team in the field with a bigger roster on paper. Leading the way for the Knights is uber talented 6’7 forward Ben Gregg, a highly skilled player who is already garnering significant college interest. Columbia Christian is coached by Bart Valentine,who won a state title at West Linn in the mid 90s and was a highly successful during a stint at Warner Pacific College.
Prep Hoops Prediciton: Kennedy should use their length, shooting ability, and tough game experience to make this a much closer match up than it appears on paper. In the end thought, the talent of the Knights will be too much as they survive a legitimate upset scare to advance to Friday night.
The Best Of:
Best Player: Clay Sullivan – Vernonia
Best Shooter: Connor Marchant – Toledo
Best Underclassmen: Payton Richardson – Western Mennonite (there are a ton of them!!)
Best Coach: Too hard to choose!! Four coaches in the field have all won state championships! David Weller – Vernonia; Gary Hull – Western Mennonite; Jeff Clark – Oakland; Bart Valentine – Columbia Christian.
Best Defender: Rocky Carley – Kennedy
Traveled Furtherst: Oakland (371 miles)