Sunset’s transformation from a squad of solo acts to a squadron of cohesive, intertwined stars is complete.

Once a team of individuals looking to get theirs before working toward the team’s goals, the Apollos’ selfless season-long maturation came to a head on Saturday in a sublime, euphoric demonstration of offensive basketball that admittedly wouldn’t have come to fruition a few months ago.

Shelling out the rock without reluctance or bravado, giving up good shots to get great ones and playing collectively as opposed to single-handedly, Sunset mangled McMinnville, 83-71, in the second round of the 6A playoffs to advance to the 6A state tournament at the Moda Center on Thursday.

Sunset plays South Salem at 6:30 p.m. in the 6A state quarterfinals.

“This was a game that earlier in the year we would not have won,” said senior post Tyler Gutierrez, who led the Apollos with 21 points. “We’ve just evolved as a team. Earlier we were somewhat selfish, and didn’t move the ball. We didn’t play as hard, but we’ve really come together as a team. Everybody is putting 100 percent into this team right now. I couldn’t have asked for better out of my team tonight.”

In late December, when the Apollos lost four of six games and three straight at one point including a 75-60 to this same McMinnville team, a high-stakes contest would’ve provoked a horde of hero ball on the Apollos’ behalf. The ball would’ve stuck in one player’s hands and not swung fluidly like it did on Saturday. An individual Apollo would’ve tried to hijack the game into his own power and take it over on a profitless solo mission.

Those days, however, are over. Sunset has learned it takes all five players on the floor, everybody pulling their weight and contributing to the winning cause to be successful. Against McMinnville, Sunset had 15 assists, many of which came during a raucous 26-point first quarter in which the Apollos snatched a 26-12 lead.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior guard Glenn Tanguy came up big for the Apollos against McMinnville, scoring 18 points to help send Sunset to the state tournament.

“Our chemistry definitely went up,” added senior guard Glenn Tanguy. “We know how to play with each other now. At the beginning of the season, we almost had a selfish mentality in a way. We realized it wasn’t working so we changed how we saw things in games and it’s worked out. Playing as team was our No. 1 goal and priority. We’re going to keep doing that through the Moda Center.”

“We’ve gotten tougher as the season’s gone on,” added senior forward Jeff Bieber. “When we went through those rough patches at the start of the year, we had a choice to fold or get better and take it day-by-day. We looked at it as an opportunity to improve. When we get down, or things don’t go our way in a game, it doesn’t matter. We’ve been there, we’ve done that.”

Tanguy initiated Sunset’s best offensive output of the year by spraying two threes from the left and right wings in the first quarter that gave the Apollos an 8-2 lead. From there, senior guard Taylor Harris took his personal game to another planet, scoring 12 straight points on a range of threes, sick change-of-direction crossovers to the key and confident spins into the lane.

“We really focused on how we could get ahead early and just keep that lead the whole game,” said Tanguy who finished with 18 points. “We made our shots, thankfully, because they won’t always go in and it paid off for us.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior guard Mikey Fey makes his way into the lane against McMinnville in the second round of the 6A playoffs on Saturday.

Gutierrez grabbed Sunset’s scoring wheel for a minute as well, pouring in six straight points including a two-handed slam after an artistic bounce pass from Mikey Fey that gave the Apollos a 26-12 lead going into the second quarter.

“We probably took great shots every single time down the floor,” said Bieber. “We shared the ball. Everybody got involved and everybody got shots. Having everyone contribute makes us very hard to guard. It was a great offensive performance, but our best is still to come.”

Continuing to ride Gutierrez and Harris in the second quarter, Sunset extended the lead to 45-28 at halftime thanks to six more points from the Concordia University-bound Gutierrez who was locked and loaded on both ends of the floor. Harris deployed an Arizona hop to get inside the lane for two, and a one-legged floater from Zach Niebergall helped erase a 7-0 run by McMinnville.

Fey set up Bobby Rake with a long two from the outside, then the senior guard found Willy Pflug on the wing for a triple that pushed Sunset’s point total to 45 in just 16 minutes of play.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset junior guard Willy Pflug lets a three-pointer from the right wing in the second quarter of the Apollos playoff win over McMinnville.

“It doesn’t matter who makes the play, as long as somebody’s making it,” said Gutierrez. “We have a bunch of players who can all hit shots and hit the open guy. We try to play as a team. It’s not about individual stats. It’s not about one person going off. It’s about getting a win and doing our thing.”

Coming out of the locker room with the mindset of going at McMinnville’s jugular, Tanguy started Sunset’s fire once again, getting a left wing three to roll in and kissing a two-dribble pull-up off the glass to go up 50-30.

Tanguy’s next play, however, was by far his most entertaining of the evening and, in a way was an example of how Sunset has altered its trajectory as one of the state’s top contenders.

The senior lefty lunged at Grizzly pass to the wing and knocked it out in front of himself in the open court for what would’ve been an easy lay-up on the other end. But, Tanguy saw the high-flying Bieber trailing him on the play, so the guard purposely lofted an underhanded pass off the left side of the backboard back to Bieber who rammed the basketball through the rim to send the Apollo student section into hysterics.

“Sometimes our team lacks energy, and I feel I can bring that personally,” said Tanguy. “If I can do that from the start, get the crowd going, get the bench going, I think it works. It gets the positive momentum going. I know I won’t score as much as (Harris or Gutierrez) but, I try to get it going with scoring or defensive stops. I try to do what I can.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior wing Bobby Rake fights for room inside against a McMinnville double team in the first half of the Apollos 83-71 playoff win on Saturday.

Not quite done torching McMinnville’s defense, Tanguy swished a three from the right wing after an extra pass from Harris, and converted a steal into a hoop to extend the Apollos’ lead to 59-36. Gutierrez’s three-point play and a floater from Harris made it 64-47 at the end of three.

“Our main focus is to move the ball and not be too selfish,” said Tanguy. “We’re not trying to get personal stats. We wanted to move (McMinnville’s) zone and create open shots.”

McMinnville went on a 10-3 run in the fourth to pull within 70-57 with 4:54 left, but Gutierrez scored on the break, Harris made six free throws and Bieber swished three at the charity stripe to keep the Grizzlies at arm’s distance.

“We don’t shy away from big games,” said Bieber. “We lost to them before, so we felt we had something to prove. To come out here and do what we did in front of a lot of people feels right.”

The Apollos’ biggest game to date will play out Thursday against the third-ranked South Salem Saxons who narrowly squeaked by Thurston, 59-55, in the second round of the state playoffs. Having gone to the 6A state tournament before and come out with a sixth place finish, Sunset will be familiar with the Moda Center’s contrasting environment.

“We have to stay humble because we know there are some great teams going,” said Tanguy. “We’re going to go to practice and just work for those teams. We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re going to be ready. Our ultimate goal is the state championship. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

The shooting backgrounds behind the baskets look much different than they do at high school gyms. The fans are further away from the court. The floor feels bigger, and the overall vibe of the arena is different depending on how many students pack the stands.

“We had a lot of returners coming back, so we have some experience there,” said Gutierrez. “It’s a new experience when you’re playing there for the first time. It’s kind of hard, but we have guys that know what they’re doing.”

There’s a lot of change, but fortunately for Sunset’s state title chances, it shouldn’t be much of a hurdle to overcome.

“I think it’s our time,” said Gutierrez. “We just have to stay grounded, stay humble. We’re going to the Moda Center, but that doesn’t mean we’ve done anything yet. We have to stay together and grind it out as a team.”

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