Braves go out on a high note

BOYS BASKETBALL: Banks ends the season in style with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Scappoose in the Cowapa playoffs
by: Tommy Whitcomb, Banks head coach Norm Ballou gives instructions to senior Jacob Tijerina during a game earlier this year, while assistant coach Pat Marlia talks to senior Jeff Stradling.

The 2006-07 season was disappointing in many ways for the Banks boys basketball team, but that didn't stop the Braves from ending the year on a high note.

In the second-to-last game of the year, Banks (9-16, 2-8) overcame a 19-point second-half deficit to topple Scappoose 79-76 in the first round of the Cowapa League playoffs.

Senior Jeff Stradling scored 16 points in the second half, including a fallaway 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired to tie the game at 66 and force overtime. In the extra frame, senior Nathan Horlacher scored six of his team-high 18 points to give Banks its first lead of the night, and junior Josh Marsh made four straight free throws to ice the amazing, come-from-behind victory over the fourth-place Indians (15-9, 6-4).

'It was a bizarre game,' said Banks head coach Norm Ballou. 'We were a little bit lucky, but the kids executed well on the comeback and put themselves in a position to win the game in overtime. That's what you want.'

Stradling did not start due to illness, but he checked into the game midway through the third quarter and proceeded to hit five straight 3-pointers, spearheading the Banks comeback effort. The final two shots were some of the strangest and most clutch of his standout career.

With a little under two minutes left and Banks trailing by five, Horlacher came up with a steal on the left sideline and lofted a pass ahead for Stradling. The ball hit a referee and bounced back to Stradling, who calmly buried a three from the wing to make it a two-point game.

Scappoose point guard Weston Powers made two free throws with 13 seconds left to put the Indians ahead 66-63, but Stradling had one more trick up his sleeve.

The senior guard brought the ball up court, then very nearly traveled while trying to get off a pass to Horlacher on the left wing. The ball came loose and Horlacher dove to the floor to recover it, then passed the ball back to Stradling while lying on his back. With a defender in his face, Stradling took three dribbles and pulled up for a three, which swished through the net as time expired.

'We drew up the play, but we didn't draw it up quite like that,' joked Ballou. 'We sort of bobbled the ball and Jeff had the wherewithal to get his body squared up and get off a shot. He actually had a pretty good look.'

Stradling finished with 16 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter as the Braves overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 3:30. Horlacher had 18 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore Gabe Linehan added 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting. Marsh finished with 12 points.

Things did not look good for Banks in the early going. The Braves missed 10 of their first 11 shots from the field as Scappoose raced out to a 12-2 lead. Banks shot just 31 percent (9 for 29) in the first half and trailed 36-22 at the break.

Scappoose's lead would grow to 19 points in the third quarter. Junior Marcus Kienlen scored seven straight points, including a nifty reverse layup at the 5:00 mark that put the Indians on top 49-30.

Banks, ice-cold in the first half, suddenly found itself on a tear, closing the third quarter on a 13-4 run to pull within 10 heading into the final stanza. Led by Stradling (12 points) and Linehan (six points), the Braves erased that deficit with a flurry of offense in the fourth.

The Braves shot 64 percent (18 for 28) in the second half, then made all four field goal attempts in the overtime period to stun the Indians.

'All season long, the biggest thing we've wanted is for the kids to execute fundamentally,' said Ballou. 'Instead of panicking, we executed the offense correctly and the kids did what they were supposed to do.'

The win propelled Banks, the league's No. 5 seed, into the second round of the Cowapa playoffs on Feb. 24, but the Braves could not recapture the magic and fell to Astoria, 60-41. That loss ended the season for Banks. A win over Astoria would have propelled the Braves into the 4A state playoffs, but it was not meant to be.

'If a team plays .500 ball, then at least 50 percent of the time the kids come to school in high spirits. We haven't had that at Banks in a while,' said Ballou. 'But about the last third of the season we started playing everybody close, and this win was the culmination of that hard work. It was really good for the kids to get this win.'