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Hounds clinch league title


Gaston locks up a Northwest League championship and can also secure a first-round home playoff game

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Gaston basketball players and coaches celebrate after Friday's 45-39 victory over Portland Christian, which concluded a regular-season Northwest League championship run.The masters of the fourth quarter were back at it again last Friday night.

Playing for nothing but pride in this particular contest, the Gaston boys basketball team roared back from a double-digit deficit in the second half, using a 19-point outburst in the final stanza to turn back Northwest League rival Portland Christian 45-39 on Senior Night.

With the Northwest League title and a berth in the league championship game already secured earlier in the week, the Greyhounds (18-5, 15-1) ran their win streak to 12 consecutive games. They have not lost since Jan. 8.

Winning was reason enough to battle back against the Royals.

“Obviously power rankings play into it a little bit, and pride as well,” said senior guard Austin Morey, who led Gaston with a game-high 13 points. “We don’t want to lose to a league team. They spanked us in football. We had some payback to get.

“They started talking a little bit, and that’s actually when we picked it up, once they started talking.”

After Portland Christian (13-10, 11-5) built up leads as large as 12 points in the second quarter and 14 in the third, a home team victory appeared to be in serious jeopardy.

Having struggled against the Royals’ press in the second period, the Hounds tightened up their ball handling and execution in the third, and they made a little headway but still entered the final period trailing 36-28.

Ultimately though, Gaston was not about to be denied.

“I looked at my guys right at the end of the third quarter. We were down eight at that point,” Gaston coach Marc Roche said. “I felt confident. I looked in their eyes. They were like, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ They knew.”

So the defense clamped down in the fourth — in fact, the Hounds would allow the Royals just a miniscule three points the entire quarter.

On the offensive end, Austin Waibel helped spark the comeback by going a clutch 6-for-6 from the free throw line to cut the deficit to 36-34 inside the six-minute mark.

“I missed too many shots, but I was able to get those free throws and start bringing some of the momentum into the team and get us going again,” Waibel said. “And then everyone picked it up — Saheat (Berisha) taking it to the rack and just getting some good defense, getting some steals and easy buckets. It was a team effort, really.”

Suddenly, everything was starting to swing the Hounds’ way, and then — as Waibel mentioned — Berisha came alive.

The senior guard scored six of his eight total points inside the final five minutes of the game. The first two in that sequence could not have come at a more ideal time, as Berisha converted a steal into a bucket, putting the Hounds up 39-37 for their first lead since 12-11 midway through the second.

After Jesse Delucia knocked down a shot going the other way, Berisha went back at it again. Twice inside the final two minutes, he found himself wide open under the basket with the ball, and he put the shot away each time for a 43-39 advantage with about 35 seconds remaining.

“It was the team’s defense,” said Berisha, who added seven rebounds, four steals and two assists. “Without our team’s defense, I wouldn’t have been able to get those layups.”

With Portland Christian unable to generate any offense, Morey knocked down two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to preserve the victory in front of an elated Gaston crowd.

After a slow start, Waibel finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, and Trevor Reynolds added nine points on three 3-pointers, the last one a clutch shot from the corner that tied the game at 37-all. Cole Waibel rounded out Gaston’s scoring with five points.

Cameron Larsen led Portland Christian with 12 points.

League title earned and win streak still intact, the games keep getting bigger for the Hounds, who await the winner of Thursday’s game between the league’s No. 2 and 3 seeds. Portland Christian had to settle for the third seed after falling to Gaston, and faced a road game against Knappa on Thursday.

Gaston faces the victor of that contest at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday in a game to be played in Forest Grove at Pacific University’s Stoller Center. The winner is guaranteed to host a first-round game in the Class 2A state playoffs, which begin on March 1.

Saturday’s game could be a barnburner, too.

“Between (Portland Christian) or Knappa, we’re going to have our hands full,” Roche said. “We know it’s going to be a battle. Our last game with Knappa was just like this.”