Win their remaining six games and win the league title. While not easy, North Douglas’ path to playoff contention couldn’t be clearer after last Saturday’s game.
The Warriors (12-6 overall, 7-1 league) hosted visiting Days Creek (9-9, 5-1) on Jan. 25 and eked out a narrow victory, 51-50, thanks to a game-winning free throw by senior Cody Black with 0.8 seconds remaining. It was the first league loss of the year for the visiting team and put North Douglas alone in first place in the Skyline league standings.
“Days Creek, you gotta tip your hat to them,” said head coach Tyler Vancil. “They play incredible defense and they make you work for it. It was back and forth the whole time. It was nerve-racking.”
The victory provided a good example of the direction the North Douglas boys’ team has taken over the last two-and-a-half weeks. They began the season 6-6, but have won six consecutive league games after back-to-back losses to Perrydale and this same Days Creek team in early January.
While health was a concern early in the season, the team is currently near full strength and quickly improving, which is to be expected for a roster with six freshmen. The growth was evident in last weekend’s contest as the Warriors turned a 21-point loss in their first matchup with the Wolves into a 1-point win in the second.
“We took care of the ball much better,” Vancil said. “I think we had 20 turnovers or so in the first game. The second game, I think we had 12. It’s not a huge difference, but that’s eight possessions. We responded to their pressure much better than we did the first time around and we actually pressured them.”
The Warriors played a full-court, man-to-man press defense the entire game, keeping the score close and giving themselves a chance late in the fourth quarter.
With 18 seconds left, Days Creek’s Zane DeGroot hit a shot to tie the game at 50, prompting Vancil to call a timeout. The Warriors set up their offense and the Wolves forced them into a difficult shot.
The ball rattled off the rim and was rebounded by Black who got fouled on the putback attempt. With under one second left, Black took to the free throw line, made the first to give the Warriors the lead and missed the second. Days Creek had only enough time to miss a halfcourt heave and the previous league leaders went home dethroned.
Black finished with seven points and seven rebounds, five of which came in the fourth quarter, and was helped along by seniors Tanner Parks (12 points) and Jake Gerrard (10 points, 10 rebounds) as well as freshman Keegan Mast (12 points).
“It feels like we’re starting to gel a little bit,” Vancil said. “I think the biggest thing you can say for our team is … we don’t have a guy that has to go out and get his. It’s nice for me that I don’t know who’s going to lead us in scoring that night because they’re so unselfish.”
As North Douglas sits alone atop the league standings, they now have an unprecedented opportunity before them. Whereas the girls’ team has won league every season except one (2017-18, finished fourth) since joining the 1A Skyline league in 2014-15, the boys’ squad has never achieved the feat. Their current best is a second-place finish in 2016-17 when the team went 11-2 in league play (24-10 overall) and ended the season ranked #4.
While Vancil and his players may not have that fact at the forefront of their minds, with only six games remaining, they still know what they need to do.
“That game was huge in determining where we finish out in Skyline and now, we control our own destiny,” Vancil said. “If we can win our next few games in Skyline and win out, then we’ll have an opportunity to play for that one seed.”
Just four of the Warriors’ remaining six games are league matchups. They will play twice this weekend, at home against Yoncalla on Fri., Jan. 31 and then away at Elkton the next day, Sat., Feb. 2.