The Sandy boys aim for a share of the NWOC basketball title with a win over Milwaukie

Everything was seemingly on the line when Milwaukie knocked off Sandy on February 2.

That was nothing.

The Pioneers and Mustangs will again face off on Friday, and the rematch couldn’t be bigger. Not only is it the regular season finale, it will also act as a conference championship game of sorts. If Milwaukie wins, it claims the Northwest Oregon Conference title, outright. If Sandy wins, it earns a share of the championship with the Mustangs.

Playoff seeding is also riding on the matchup. A victory by the Pioneers would make them a virtual lock to snag one of the eight automatic playoff spots. A loss would likely force them into a play-in game.

If the Pioneers are going to lay claim to all the spoils coming to Friday’s victor, they will have to improve their execution and poise against the Mustangs. When they played at Milwaukie, the Pioneers were shaky fundamentally. They struggled mightily from the free-throw line, while Milwaukie converted most of its foul shots. Sandy failed to get post Justin Adams involved like it has in other games this season. The Pioneers also cracked under the weight of Milwaukie’s full-court press defense, especially in key situations.

“We need to handle pressure better,” Sandy coach Jason Maki said. “It will be an intense game, so being competitive, but keeping composure, will be important.”

In the first meeting, Sandy trailed by one point in the fourth quarter when Hunter Rowe drew a personal foul and a technical foul simultaneously, causing him to foul out. That completely changed the complexion of the game and Milwaukie outscored Sandy 12-5 the rest of the way.

One thing the Pioneers do have going for them is being at home. The hostile Milwaukie crowd riled them, but having their own fans in their own gym might be just what they need this time around.

“I felt they got the majority of the ‘breaks’ of the game, so we will need to make sure we get those breaks at home,” Maki said. “A big crowd would help us a lot.”

For Sandy’s 10 seniors, it will be their last opportunity to play in front of their fans on their home floor. The Pioneers have needed motivation to play well this season. The prospect of winning their final game on Pioneer Court should be all the motivation they need.

“It should be fun,” Maki said. “It's senior night – time to honor our seniors who have won more games than any (Sandy) team in the past 20 years.”

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