Last Friday I was packing up my gear and hopping in the minivan for my second trip to Coos Bay that week! The day before I had watched OES boys basketball defeat the two-time defending state champions De La Salle North 58-51. De La Salle North had beaten OES three times this season. All of the losses were by double digits, but Coach Kirk and the team believed that they were going to win the fourth time. The scoring for the quarterfinal game started with a three pointer by Charles W'21 and the Aardvarks never trailed.
I had to head back to Portland that night. You know that feeling when you are in the car, jamming tunes, thinking about something so deeply(the magnitude of the boys' win) and you suddenly realize you are 30 miles north of your turnoff? I quickly called Asha to let her know the results and left her an enthusiastic message. As I headed east on 126 I knew cell reception was going to disappear, so I called the guy who always seems to understand exactly what is going on with me-Kris Van Hatcher. Kris was the architect of the OES athletic program and this win was as special for him as it was for anyone. OES had won their first Elite 8 game for the 1st time in school history. After I shared the news, our call was dropped and it was me and my thoughts heading northeast.
After a quick Friday morning meeting it was time to get back to watch the Final Four. I love the Coos Bay road trip. 4 hours of driving in beautiful Oregon with a quick stop at the Cresswell Bakery. Coincidentally, OES was playing Cresswell in the semifinals. As I pulled off the interstate it was obvious that the whole town was planning on heading west to watch their boys take on the Aardvarks. I proudly walked into the bakery with my OES gear on. The people behind the counter and everyone that was eating in the restaurant were extremely polite and it was great to hear how excited everyone was about going to the game. Coos Bay is a magical place to watch basketball. Marshfield HS has an amazing gym and the entire community supports the eight boys teams and the eight girls teams that qualify and travel to their town. After devouring some of the best baked goods in the northwest I told everyone that I would see them that evening at the game. I looked at my phone. The texts were rolling in. Coaches from the Lewis and Clark League, alumni, teachers and parents were asking me to wish Coach Kirk and the boys good luck!
Cresswell led 18-12 after the first quarter. I had already lost my voice cheering for the boys. I was sitting with the OES parents. The OES girls basketball team had also travelled down to support the boys.
Two teams, one program is how they describe OES basketball. At the start of the 2nd quarter OES went on a 6-2 run and trailed 20-18 with four minutes in the first half. Then Luca P'20 took over. The senior captain played inspired ball and in the final seconds of the half he drained a half court shot. He was feeling it! OES led 33-26. Both teams started the second half on fire! After four minutes OES still led by 7 points, but Creswell was ready to make a run. Creswell would hold the Aardvarks scoreless for the final four minutes of the third quarter and heading into the 4th they had a one point lead.
My voice was gone, I had sweated through all of my clothes and I had to repeatedly go out in the hallway during breaks in action. I was a wreck. In contrast to me the team seemed focused and calm. All season long they had played close games and they had learned through competition not to panic and to simply focus on the moment. OES would take back the game and with 2 minutes left they held a six point lead. Both teams were playing inspired basketball, but OES would hit their foul shots and Jakob W, Milo K and Ryan B would dominate the boards to put the game away. OES 64 Creswell 53! We were going to the Championship game.
There was no road trip that night. With the rest of the Aardvark Nation I would hunker down at the Red Lion Inn. When I woke up the next morning at 6:00AM I immediately dreaded the long day of waiting for the 8:30PM championship game. After a few hours of answering emails and texts, I headed to the gym. I needed a distraction from the wait. The consolation games were playing and I was amazed to see a packed gym at 10:45am. Coos Bay loves basketball. The other teams who weren't playing were creating student sections cheering for or against the team that had knocked them out earlier in the tournament. The Brookings Harbor girls had their own chants and dances. They were set on having as much fun on and off the court as they could. It was so amazing to see the joy scholastic athletics bring people.
Finally it was time for the championship game. Dozens of OES parents and students had made the pilgrimage to Coos Bay and the girls basketball team now were surrounded by Upper School classmates along with a handful of Middle Schoolers. The St Mary's boys team, who had lost to our opponent Cascade Christian in the semifinals, became honorary Aardvarks before tip-off.
The championship game had the makings of an epic defensive battle. Two of the top defenses in the state matched up in the final game of the season. After four minutes it looked like scoring baskets was going to be difficult. OES led 4-1. At the end of the quarter it was 8-7 Aardvarks. We had the lead, but earning buckets was near impossible. The second quarter was just like the first and heading into halftime it was OES 16 Cascade 14. Every possession was a battle and both teams were playing smart and tenacious team defense. During the third quarter the teams would both score 11 points and heading into the final quarter of the season it was OES 27 Cascade Christian 25. The battle ensued and Cascade would take the lead by 1. Then Charles W'21 headed to the free throw line with 1:08 left in the game. The OES crowd held their collective breath. He hit both and OES held the lead. Cascade Christian called a timeout. Could we hold them for the final minute? No. After battling all night and forcing tough shots, Cascade ran a set play out of the timeout and scored on a beautiful back door basket before you could say, "Hoosiers." OES advanced the ball to mid court and Coach Kirk called a timeout. 50 seconds on the clock, a packed gym, history on the line, and I swear the boys looked like they did every game this season, cool and collected. They inbounded the ball and started their weave. Everything was going as planned and Charles got the ball off a handoff and used John F'20 for a pick. Cascade collapsed around him leaving him no option but to pass the ball back to John. John F, two time captain, three time lacrosse All American, and defensive specialist pump faked, dribbled into the lane lefty, and banked in a beautiful floater. What?! Fitzy hit the bucket? He had more fouls this year than points.
There was no time to celebrate. Cascade inbounded the ball and used their final timeout. If OES was going to win, it would come down to their signature defense. Cascade set up their top player, but OES shut him down. They rotated the ball to the weakside and their senior forward ball faked and drove to the lane. He had a step on Fitz and he was going to score. From the weakside Charles W rotated over and met the Cascade Christian hoopster in mid air. Charles blocked the shot and Jakob grabbed the rebound and was fouled immediately. Check out the block at this link. .05 seconds on the clock. Remember the Trent Tucker rule? No worries. The game was over. Jakob hit one of two and OES inbounded the ball and the boys bounded to center court to celebrate. OES had won the 3A State Championships!
Several hours south the Ski Racing team was making history also. They were at Mt Ashland for their State Championships. Ski Racing is a tough spectator sport. The racers fly by you, and like NASCAR the highlights are usually epic crashes that leave parents teary-eyed and anxious until the racer untangles from the netting lining the course. You think parents of goalies have it bad, go watch a ski race with a mom or dad of a racer.
On the second day of racing the boys were set for the GS event. Due to some technicality the course had to be reset after Alex U had his first run. To put it delicately, this led to a lot of drama. On Alex's second run he wiped out so bad his boot buckles were broken. Would they count his first run? You don't get to know these things until hours later, so the senior racer had to gather his emotions and focus and race a third time, just in case his outstanding first run was void. He duct taped his puts together and did his best. At the awards ceremony no one knew what the decision would be. OES Boys thought that they had the potential to earn a medal as a team, but when 3rd place was announced and it wasn't them they thought it wasn't there year. Then they heard, "In 2nd place for Giant Slalom, Oregon Episcopal School." Holy cow! Their highest finish in school history. Cue Kool and the Gang, time to play "Celebration." The racers crashed hard in the bus during the long journey home that night. It was an emotional ending to the season. Final results from states were:
Alex Ugas won the GS
Grace Armstrong was 9th in the GS.
Hugh Shanno was 7th in the Slalom
Hugh Shanno was 8th in the boys overall(combined results for Slalom and GS)
The OES boys team took 2nd Overall in the GS
Oscar Hapke received a plaque on stage for receiving the most nominations--and apparently it wasn't even close--for the sportsmanship award in the metro league.