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Pioneers hold off Apollos in semis

Sammy Schafer puts his game face on and leads Oregon City to victory

EUGENE - After dominating the fourth-ranked Sunset Apollos most of the way, the Oregon City Pioneers nearly let the game get away from them here Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 6A High School Boys Basketball Championships.

The top-ranked Pioneers prevailed 62-58. They never trailed and they went on top for good early in the game on sharp outside shooting by 6-4 senior wing Kamal Smith.

Smith hit three 3-pointers and 6-2 senior wing Bryce Kinney added a fourth first-quarter trey to stake the Pioneers to an early 20-11 advantage.

The Pioneers widened the gap to 34-21 on a rebound basket by senior point guard Brad Tinsley, and they appeared to have the game well in hand, leading 36-23, heading into the halftime break.

But there was no quit in the Apollos. They battled with a newfound intensity in the second half, and gradually closed the gap.

Sunset 6-1 senior point guard Garrett Sim was money for the Apollos in the second half, when he scored 20 of his game-high 27 points.

'I love playing against that guy,' said Oregon City 6-10 senior post Sammy Schafer. 'He's a fierce competitor. He played with his heart and soul out there tonight.'

Sim took the ball to the basket in traffic late in the third period to trim the gap to 44-38.

The Pioneers spread the floor in the fourth period, and the strategy nearly backfired, because they turned ice-cold from the charity stripe.

Four different Oregon City players missed free throws and the Pioneers were only 7-of-17 from the line in the final period.

The Apollos never caught the Pioneers, but things got tense when Sim hit a pair of gifters with 25 seconds remaining to pull the Apollos within 59-58.

At 23 seconds, the Apollos fouled Smith, and the Pioneer senior stepped to the free throw line with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Sunset's fans filled McArthur Court with a deafening roar as they attempted to distract Smith. But Smith's two charity tosses hit nothing but net, gaining the Pioneers a more comfortable 61-58 advantage.

'Those free throws were huge!' said Kinney.

'[When I stepped to the line] I was thinking about what coach says every day when we shoot free throws in practice, about concentrating,' said Smith. 'I was thinking, I've got to make these. If I make these we probably win the game.'

Sim missed from 3-point land and Schafer hit one of two free throws with five seconds left to gain the Pioneers their winning advantage.

Tinsley, who has averaged better than 24 points a game this season, struggled against the Apollos aggressive double teams and turned the ball over eight times. He finished with 18 points and hit two key buckets on drives to the basket in the fourth quarter.

Oregon City 5-10 junior guard Ryan Huntting also hit a huge 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, when the Apollos appeared to have the momentum going their way.

Schafer said he wasn't aware that Tinsley was a little off his game.

'I didn't even notice,' said Schafer. 'When someone has an off-night, the rest of the team picks it up. That's Pioneer basketball.'

Schafer was the key player in the victory. The Pioneer big man led his squad in nearly every category with team highs in scoring (19 points), rebounding (14), blocked shots (4) and assists (5).

Following the game, Schafer said, 'I'm tired and sore. And I feel like I need to go shoot 100 free throws for every one we missed tonight.'

Schafer was 7-of-13 from the line for the game.

Smith (13 points) joined Schafer and Tinsley in double figures in scoring.

The Apollos crashed the boards hard in the second half and finished with a 35-31 edge in rebounding.

But the Pioneers scored many of their baskets in the paint and had a much better shooting night than the Apollos.

Oregon City made 21-of-39 (.538) shots from the floor, while Sunset went 19-for-55 (.345).

Schafer was 6-of-11 from the field; Tinsley was 7-of-11.

The Apollos made 16-of-20 (.800) free throws, while the Pioneers cashed in on 14-of-28 (.500).

The Metro League champion Apollos (24-5) went on to win 80-73 in Saturday night's third-place final with North Medford.

Friday's semifinal win was the 18th consecutive victory for the Pioneers.