TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO
BAKER CITY After 29 games, it all comes down to this.
The undefeated, top-ranked Imbler boys basketball team, 68-61 winner of a hard-fought 1A semifinal match against Ione Friday, will finally get a shot at the one thing they have coveted all season long: a state championship.
"We're there," Imbler head coach Ken Kramer said. "Ione, we knew they'd be tough, but we made it. With the way the community has supported this team all winter, the way they've packed the gym each and every game, it has been a joy to coach this team."
Imbler will play Columbia Christian, a 52-46 winner over South Wasco County in the other semifinal, at 8:15 tonight for the 1A championship.
It will be Kramer's third shot at a title, having lost in the championship game twice while coaching Pilot Rock, in 1971 and 1972.
Imbler last won a boys championship in 1984.
"I've played basketball all my life and I've always loved the game," Imbler's Tanner McIntosh said. "And when I was in the seventh grade I was the manager for the Imbler varsity and I remember realizing that being able to play for a state title would be as good as it gets.
"We're going to treat tomorrow like another game. If we can do it, then the emotions will come. Not until then."
Ione, led by Tyler Brown's 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists, came a hair's breadth away from darkening Imbler's magical season.
After John McKinnis scored three straight baskets to open the game and give Imbler a 6-0 lead, Brown hit three straight 3-pointers to put Ione up 9-8.
A Brown free throw halfway through the second quarter put Ione ahead 28-24.
Brown scored 18 points in the first half.
"Tyler loves big games and big moments," Ione head coach Dennis Stefani said. "And he always plays his best in those situations. I'm just sorry I couldn't give him a break at all tonight."
Brown's hot shooting necessitated a switch in the Imbler defensive scheme, moving the 6-foot-7 McIntosh over to guard the 6-1 Brown.
"It was just because I'm taller and it would force him to put more on his shot," McIntosh said. "Nothing else. He was just shooting good and we wanted to try something different."
In the second half, the two teams continued to battle it out until Ione took a 55-54 lead with four minutes to play.
With the one-point lead, Ione intercepted a half-court pass and had Imbler cornered on a two-on-one fast break as Panther Max Nilsson hustled to get back on defense.
"The guys always tell me to step up, I'm always hearing it from them and from the coaches, that I need to step up," Nilsson said.
As Ione's Kelly Thompson drove in for a layup and the presumptive three-point lead, Nilsson blocked Thompson's shot, grabbed the deflection and threw the ball down court to a streaking Alan O'Donald for a layup and a 56-55 Imbler lead.
Imbler never trailed again.
The Panthers were led in scoring by O'Donald and McKinnis, who each scored 20 points.
McIntosh finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Nilsson added 10 points and 12 boards.
The free-throw line was a factor in Columbia Christian's semifinal win over South Wasco County. The Knights were 16-for-23 from the foul line while the Redsides attempted only nine charities, making six.
CC had only 10 turnovers.
Jackson Tandy led Columbia Christian with 15 points and four assists. Ray Palmquist for 16 for SWC.
Fulfer 0 0-0 0, O'Donald 7 2-5 20, McKinnis 8 4-4 20, McIntosh 5 4-6 14, Campbell 1 2-6 4, Cline 0 0-0 0, Harder 0 0-0 0, Nilsson 5 0-0 10, Hihstadt 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 14-23 68.
Bolin 2 2-2 6, Christman 8 1-3 17, Thompson 3 0-1 6, Raible 1 0-0 2, Brown 8 7-10 28, Ekstrom 0 0-0 0, Long 0 0-0 0, Rietmann 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 5-8 61.
Imbler 22 8 17 21 68
Ione 21 9 13 18 61
3-point goals: O'Donald 2; Brown 5. Total fouls: Imbler 17, Ione 20. Fouled out: Bolin.