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Sharp-shooting Hawks notch semifinal victory in OT

Boys basketball: Horizon Christian moves to the final with a 54-44 win over Cascade Christian
by: JAIME VALDEZ, SURROUNDED — Horizon Christian sophomore C.J. Mitchell (10) finds himself surrounded by a trio of Cascade Christian defenders in Friday’s Class 3A state tourney semifinal tilt. The Hawks won 54-44 in overtime.

SALEM - There's extra emphasis put on free throw shooting at Horizon Christian's practice.

There was no more important time for the Hawks to put that to use then in overtime of Friday's semifinal in the Class 3A state boys basketball tournament at Willamette University.

Time after time, Horizon connected from the line, sending the second-year school into the title game with a 54-44 win over Cascade Christian.

'This was our dream,' Horizon Christian senior center Nick Gowen said. 'Every team wants to believe they can. We knew we had to play our game.'

That being, attack the basket and get to the foul line. The Hawks converted 11 of 12 free throws in overtime, including their final eight, to seal the deal.

'We're an excellent foul shooting team,' coach Dave Brown said. 'Any time we can go to the line, we're in good shape.'

The Hawks were after Gowen hauled in long pass from C.J. Mitchell for a reverse layin and junior forward Andrew Bristol buried a 3-pointer in the right corner for a 45-39 lead with 1 minute, 26 seconds left in OT.

Bristol then hit 6 of 6 free throws and Mitchell added a pair to cap a 20 of 24 performance.

'We shoot tons of free throws in practice,' said senior guard Beau Mendezona, who was 5 of 6 at the line and had 12 points. 'Coach says it all comes down to free throws.'

It was all Hawks early as Horizon took a 15-4 first quarter lead. Bristol, who led Horizon with 16 points, scored on a fast break layin and Gowen, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, converted a three-point play for an 11-0 lead.

Cascade shot 1 of 16 in the first quarter and didn't score until nearly four minutes into the game. Its first field goal came a minute later.

The Hawks took advantage, continuously attacking the hoop to put the Challengers in quick foul trouble and Horizon into the bonus when Bristol hit a pair of free throws for a 15-4 lead.

'Last game we came out jittery,' Gowen said. 'To start the game that way gave us a big boost.'

And one the Hawks needed all of after a sloppy second quarter. After Mendezona hit two free throws, the Challengers went on an 8-0 run as Horizon didn't hit its first field goal of the frame until Mendezona scored off a drive with 1:52 left.

Mitchell buried a 3-pointer but Cascade answered likewise to make it 22-19 at halftime.

'I thought we would run away with it,' Mendezona said. 'But they came back. I give them credit.'

Horizon's shooting woes continued in the third quarter and the Challengers took a 26-24 lead. Bristol drained a 3-pointer with 2:15 left for the Hawks' first bucket of the second half. Mendezona added a 3-pointer and the score was tied 30-30 heading into the fourth.

There, the teams traded baskets. Mendezona and Josh Platt scored for Horizon before Gowen drove from the top of the key for a layin and 36-34 lead with 3:07 left. The Hawks didn't score again in regulation and the Challengers tied the game on a jumper with 2:00 left.

Both teams failed to get the decisive bucket. After a timeout with 0:16 left, Cascade had the final chance but couldn't get a shot off and was called for traveling as the buzzer sounded.

'The key thing was that last possession,' Brown said. 'I told the kids, 'This has got to be the best defense we play all year.''

The Hawks held and went on to win in overtime to advance to the title game against Regis.

'With our record, we've been in that situation before,' Mendezona said. 'We know how to come together as a team and we did that.'