Gaston takes out Knappa to win its second straight Northwest League crown

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Gaston senior Austin Morey gets past a pair of Knappa defenders and throws up a shot during Saturday's Northwest League playoff game. Morey scored 11 points in a 44-34 Gaston victory.This time around, Gaston did not need the fourth-quarter comeback.

Facing Knappa in the Northwest League district title contest last Saturday, the Greyhounds boys basketball team opted for a different approach than it has often employed this winter: playing from the front.

In the end, while the approach may have been different, the result was the same. The Hounds (19-5, 15-1) turned back the Loggers 44-34 at Pacific University’s Stoller Center to claim the district championship — the program’s second in a row — and a home game for the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs. With the victory, the team’s win streak hit 13 games.

Gaston hosts Central Linn at 7 p.m. this Saturday with a bid to next week’s state tournament in Pendleton on the line.

Against Knappa (15-10, 11-5), the Greyhounds played with early poise, jumping out to a 14-7 lead after one quarter and cruising from there.

“We just played smarter basketball. We didn’t force as much,” said Gaston senior Austin Waibel, who matched Knappa’s Austin Palek for game-high scoring honors with 13 points. “Our first quarter ... pretty much all our plays were just down low. We were just getting inside their defense and creating havoc down there.”

The Hounds blasted out to a double-digit lead before the Loggers trimmed it back to 20-14 at halftime, though Gaston still had the game well in hand.

For Greyhounds coach Marc Roche, after so many nail-biters coming down to the wire this year, the team’s change of pace was refreshing.

“That was awesome,” Roche said. “That was the first game we played all season where we were just in control. We really set a tempo early.”

Behind the play of Waibel and fellow senior Austin Morey, Gaston had plenty to keep the Loggers at bay in the second half, even though Knappa tried to turn up the pressure. The Hounds had the answer, however, outscoring the Loggers in each of the final two quarters and winning the second half 24-20.

In addition to his 13 points, Waibel added seven rebounds. Morey was not all that far off of a triple-double with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Cole Waibel added eight points, five rebounds and two assists, and Saheat Berisha chipped in five points, two rebounds and two steals.

Now, Pendleton beckons, and the Hounds have a second chance to do what they could not do a year ago in the same situation — pick up one more win. In last season’s first round playoff contest, Gaston dropped a 34-33 heartbreaker.

“Not gonna happen again,” Waibel said.

In Central Linn, Gaston could face a tricky opponent. The No. 12-seeded Cobras of Halsey finished fifth at the state tournament in 2013 after tying for third place in the Tri-River Conference. Central Linn (19-7, 11-5) also tied for third in league play this season.

Four players return from that state tournament squad, including 6-foot-7 co-captain Oliver Meyr, one of seven players on the varsity roster listed at 6 feet or taller. Fellow returners Morgan Vaughan and Alex Pettner were both starters during the Cobras’ state tournament run in 2013.

As far as common opponents go, the two teams have just one this season in East Linn Christian Academy. The Hounds defeated the Eagles 39-22 back on Dec. 21, while the Cobras won three games against East Linn, two in the Tri-River regular season and one in the league playoffs. Central Linn’s margin of victory ranged from three to 17 points.

Roche, for one, seems ready to see how it plays out.

“Thirteen games ago, I didn’t know what the season was going to look like,” he said. “We were on a four-game skid, actually, at that point and just kind of figuring out our identity a little bit.

“We’ve had some interesting games down the stretch and a lot of close ones maybe that shouldn’t have been so close. But I feel like we’re just getting better, and we’re peaking at the right time and we’re heading in the right direction.”

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