THE HARD FACTS: All we need Hackman on the bench

By Paul Harder, The Observer March 05, 2014 12:06 pm

It’s not quite that feeling of Hickory versus the state of Indiana, but the Class 1A boys state basketball tournament in Baker City could certainly draw some comparisons to that mind set.

“We felt that way during the football playoffs,” Powder Valley senior Chace Dixon said. “It’s the small farm town against the city schools.”

Yes, according to the classification requirements all the schools fall into the same enrollment numbers. But as my trainer constantly yells out during workouts, it’s quality not quantity. 

Powder Valley and Imbler are both charter schools meaning anyone can apply for enrollment into the school. But being around the Portland area allows other charter and private schools to draw athletes that aren’t found in eastern Oregon. Maybe its just me, but athletes here have a more diverse interests. Obviously living near the mountains provides high school students other avenues of recreation not available living in a metropolitan area. But you just don’t see many athletes in Class 1A schools around this area, or most rural areas, specializing in one sport. The projected “favorites” in Baker this week don’t compete in football.

The Panthers have their hands full in the opening round of the tournament with No. 1 Horizon Christian. Imbler has come further than most teams this season. Losing key players due to graduation, the Panthers got off to a slow start — even though they posted a 21-4 record. Senior Eli Bowers, junior Joe Griffin and sophomore Trace Vancleave have come a long way to help two-time Old Oregon League Player of the Year Kyle Johnson get back to Baker City this season. The Panthers had their fill of Christian schools last season. Imbler played three, winning two of those game, en route to a fourth-place finish. This season the toughest game will again be in the opening round. 

The Hawks dropped one game all season — ending the year 23-1. The loss came in the opening game of the year to Irrigon. The Knights finished the year No. 1 in Class 2A. Horizon Christian did have a couple other close games this season — against Class 3A schools. The Hawks even picked up a win against No. 2 Blanchet Catholic. In fact, Horizon Christian went 3-0 against Class 3A top 10 teams this season. 

Powder Valley will face the other Class 1A powerhouse in a possible semifinal meeting. The Badgers will most likely resemble the Hoosiers expect it will be Columbia Christian coming to play Powder Valley’s back yard. 

The Badgers have been great to watch. Their ability to create turnovers in the full-court press has led to a 22-1 record. It’s a senior-laden team with depth. Powder Valley can shoot it from deep with Quin Stephens, Jason Benites and Marcus Pratt. Tyler Robinson, Logan Allen and Brock Jones can score inside. And the Badgers are going to need all those shots to fall in order to match what they did the last time they appeared in a state tournament in Baker — winning the state title in 2009. 

Columbia Christian is the same school that Imbler beat last season 60-42, but it’s not the same team. The Knights have two “big” additions to this year’s team. A pair of 6-foot-8 NCAA Division I recruits. 

Kameron Chatman has signed a letter of intent to play with Michigan next season, while Arkadiy Mkrtychyan will play for Idaho next season. Don’t let the 22-5 record fool you. Those five losses weren’t to teams you’ll see around Baker. In fact of only loss to an Oregon based school was a 62-60 loss to Benson, a Class 5A school. The other losses came to teams from California, Washington and Alabama. Issaquah, Wash, was the latest loss 64-57. The Eagles are No. 11 in the state at all classifications, and ranked No. 327 nationally. To put the potential semifinal meeting in perspective, Powder Valley is ranked No. 4,144.  

That’s not to say it can’t be done, but the odds aren’t good.

As preacher Pearl said before the big game in Hoosiers, “And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.”