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Boys basketball: Upstart Horizon Christian falls to Regis in the Class 3A state title tilt
by: JAIME VALDEZ, TROPHY TIME — Horizon Christian senior center Nick Gowen takes the second-place trophy back over to his teammates following the Class 3A state championship game.

SALEM - It could easily be called a surprising season.

Some members of the Horizon Christian High School boys basketball team went as far as to call it a miracle season.

And it nearly was a championship season.

One thing's for sure - it's a season to remember for the Hawks.

Horizon Christian, the Tualatin high school in just its second year of existence, made it all the way to the title game of the Class 3A state tournament. The Hawks ended their season just a step short of the championship as they fell 49-36 to Regis in the title contest played before a packed house - which included many sign-waving, 'we believe' chanting Horizon Christian fans - Saturday at Willamette University.

'It's just a miracle - it really is,' Horizon Christian senior guard Beau Mendezona said after the championship game. 'It was a great season. I can't thank my team enough and I can't thank the coaches enough. To get here was amazing. Thank God.'

Horizon Christian, which defeated Burns and Cascade Christian (see related stories) at the state tournament to reach the title game, finished its season with a final overall record of 27-3. That's quite an improvement from the Hawks' inaugural season, where they went 5-9 while playing an independent schedule.

'I was here last year. It was kind of frustrating,' Horizon Christian senior center Nick Gowen said as he held the second-place trophy. 'This year we got Beau and Andrew (Bristol) and we all clicked. Then we started beating some good teams. Then we won our league and our district. It's been a miracle. God opened some big doors for us - it's pretty cool.'

'No one expected us to be here,' Horizon Christian sophomore Cole Houston said. 'It's sad that our season ended in a loss, but we worked our hardest - and we hope to be back here soon.'

While Horizon Christian was a complete newcomer to state tournament play, Regis was a tournament veteran and perennial state power. The Rams captured Class 2A state championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Last year, at the Class 3A level, Regis reached the championship game before falling 52-50 in overtime to Valley Catholic in the title contest.

The Rams showed their tournament savvy early on in Saturday's championship contest.

Houston sank a three-pointer from the top of the circle to give the Hawks a 5-3 lead with 4 minutes and 34 seconds to play in the first quarter, but the Rams, behind the play of senior Derek Piete, who tallied 10 points in first quarter, scored the final 11 points of the period to take a 14-5 lead at the end of the quarter.

Regis continued its strong play in the second period. Piete sank a pair of free throws to give the Rams a 20-9 lead with 4:09 left in the first half. But the Hawks came battling back. Bristol scored four points and Gowen added three in a span of 2:29 as Horizon Christian trimmed the margin to 22-16 with 1:08 to play in the second quarter.

However, Regis, getting a follow-up basket by Robert Keudell and a 23-foot, last-second three-pointer by Piete pushed the lead back to 11, at 27-16, at halftime.

The Rams got a steal and layup by Jason Gower at the start of the third quarter, upping their lead to 29-16, but the persistent Hawks battled back again.

Bristol made a pair of free throws, Houston buried a three-pointer and Gowen scored on a drive to get Horizon Christian within six, at 29-23, with 3:57 left in the third quarter.

'We were determined to try and get back into the game,' Gowen said.

Mendezona went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minutes of the period to keep the Hawks within six, at 33-27, going into the fourth quarter.

The margin was still six, at 35-29, after Gowen sank a pair of free throws with 5:16 remaining in the slowly-paced fourth quarter.

Regis, in the ensuing possession, ate 1:29 off the clock before getting a three-pointer by Piete, making the score 38-29 with 3:47 left to play.

It was an uphill battle for the Hawks from there - but they kept trying. Bristol made a pair of free throws and Gowen sank a three-pointer, but, with Regis going 10-for-12 from the free throw line in the final 2:09 of the contest, Horizon Christian's late rally attempt was cut short and the Rams were soon celebrating their 49-36 victory.

'Regis is a very good. They were the better team tonight,' Houston said. 'We knew we could play with them, but we just came up a little short.'

'I saw Regis play a few times this year, and they saved their best for last,' Horizon Christian coach Dave Brown said. 'They took us out of our offense a bit. You have to give them credit. But we hung in there and got back in the game.'

Piete, who scored 10 fourth-quarter points to help Regis seal the victory, led all scorers with 25 points. Seniors Joe Obersinner and Jake Obersinner each added seven points for the Rams. Regis made 14 of 35 shots from the field and 18 of 26 free throws.

Gowen, who was a second-team all-tournament selection, led the Hawks with 12 points and he pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. Bristol had 10 points and six rebounds and Mendezona scored eight points.

Horizon Christian, as a team, made seven of 27 shots from the field and 19 of 23 free throw attempts.

'It's been a fantastic season,' Brown said. 'We were blessed by God. We came up one step short, but you can't minimize what we accomplished in getting to the finals. Right now, it's disappointing, sure, but this has been tremendous.'