With 6-foot-10 sophomore Nate Bittle serving as host, Crater threw another impressive block party Thursday morning at the Class 5A boys basketball state tournament.
This time, however, the Comets were able to reap the full rewards of their effort, scoring a 78-62 victory over Pendleton in the consolation semifinals to earn some valuable leftover playing time Saturday in the fourth-place final at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
“They were really upset about how it ended against Silverton,” said Crater head coach Chris Schmerbach of the quarterfinal loss. “They’re not wanting to accept the idea that they’re young, they want their time to be now so it was a tough one. But I kind of had a feeling they’d respond this way with a great effort because it’s been that way all year.”
After setting 5A tournament records Wednesday with eight blocked shots by Bittle and 10 overall by Crater in a loss to Silverton, the sixth-seeded Comets (18-9) upped the ante in a determined effort against the No. 10 Buckaroos (17-7).
Bittle added to his 5A tournament record with 10 blocked shots Thursday, breaking the all-classification single-game record for blocks of nine shared by five others, including former Cascade Christian star Marty Maurer.
Bittle’s 18 blocks in two games are 5A and all-time tournament records. Mountain View’s Ryan Fisher had 15 in 2010 for the previous 5A mark, and Corbett’s Don Carter managed 17 at the 2A level in 1994.
“When he doesn’t gamble and he stays down, his ability as a secondary defender is as good as I’ve seen ever,” said Schmerbach of Bittle. “He just knows where the ball’s going to be, and his timing and reaction are really impressive. When you have a 7-5 wingspan, it gives you the ability to get a lot of them, that’s for sure.”
As a team, Crater managed 12 blocked shots Thursday to bump its own 5A record up by two. With 22 in two days, the Comets own the 5A team record and are three shy of equaling the all-time record of 25 set by Prairie City at the 1A level in 1995.
“I knew Nate was going to get one of those block records up here this year just because of the way he’s been getting it going here down the stretch,” added Schmerbach. “We played some more zone today and it kind of lends itself to that with him at the back.”
Offensively, Bittle and his teammates were equally as impressive in a drastic turnaround from the previous night.
Bittle scored a career-high 40 points on 16-for-26 shooting — 4 of 11 from 3-point range — and added 16 rebounds to complete his triple-double. The No. 15 national recruit for the Class of 2021 was 4-for-6 for 10 points with four blocks to help set the tone in the first quarter as Crater pulled ahead early, 18-14. He was 7-for-10 for 18 points, six rebounds and six blocks by halftime.
“That was an unreal performance by Nate,” said Schmerbach. “He’s starting to settle in and his confidence is really growing. We know he’s going to be a special one but now he’s starting to get to the point where he’s like, ‘Coach, I’ve got this.’ And when players start to have that kind of confidence and leadership, that’s a good thing.”
“We did a really good job today of finding him in transition,” added the coach, “and he got to his spots and the game is starting to slow down for him. We’re starting to see glimpses of the future every time he gets out there.”
As vital as Bittle’s performance was, he certainly was not alone in propelling the Comets on Thursday.
Crater used a 9-0 run in the second quarter to build a 10-point cushion and later added another 9-0 run in the frame to help the Comets take a 46-23 advantage into halftime. In each instance, it was senior Nathan Horton, junior Kruger Edwards and junior Jayden Vranes that provided the spark.
“Kruger played probably one of the best games he’s played all season today,” said Schmerbach. “He was super aggressive in passing lanes and attacked the basket. Jay pushed the ball up the floor really well and found guys, and Horton didn’t hesitate and shot the ball really well.”
Horton tallied 15 points and seven rebounds, knocking down 3 of 6 shots beyond the arc, while Edwards had 15 points and four rebounds and Vranes contributed seven points and nine of the team’s 18 assists — finishing just one assist shy of the 5A team record set by Milwaukie against Woodburn in 2011.
“When you’re on that path where the ball just finds the right person in the right place, it’s fun to coach and fun to play in,” said Schmerbach. “There’s a lot of happy fans and a lot of happy players. When you watch the best teams play, that’s what they do, they just make the right basketball play, and we did that today.”
Crater will need much more of that at 8 a.m. Saturday against a familiar foe in Thurston, which denied the Comets a shot in last year’s 5A title game and went on to win it all after entering the tourney 0-2 against Crater.
The fifth-seeded Colts (20-6) beat La Salle Prep 68-50 Thursday and already own two Midwestern League wins over Crater this season, 50-44 on Dec. 14 and 63-43 on Jan. 25.
“We got our wish to play for a trophy and be one of the few teams that gets to end its season with a win,” said Schmerbach, “but now we’ve got to go play a really good team in Thurston who always brings its best game. They’re the defending state champion and they kind of owned us two times this year so if we want to go out on a win we’ve got to find a way to play at an even higher level.”
Crater placed fifth last season, and fourth is the highest the program has ever finished (1990).
Tyler Newsom 10-24 10-13 31, Dakota Sams 7-19 0-0 17, Redmond O’Hanlon 5-12 0-0 10, Kason Broncheau 1-6 0-0 2, Tanner Sweek 1-5 0-0 2, Cooper Roberts 0-0 0-0 0, Jon Begay 0-0 0-0 0, Greyson Sams 0-0 0-0 0, Chauncey Sams 0-0 0-0 0, Cam Sandford 0-1 0-0 0, Bryson Murray 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-67 10-13 62.
Nate Bittle 16-26 4-6 40, Kruger Edwards 5-10 4-5 15, Nathan Horton 5-9 2-2 15, Jayden Vranes 3-6 1-2 7, Hunter Chubb 0-5 1-2 1, Jaden Fliegel 0-1 0-0 0, Nathan Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Taishi Noble 0-1 0-0 0, Garrett Dance 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Eaton 0-1 0-0 0, Trevor Jaasko 0-1 0-0 0, Braydon Ray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-63 12-17 78.
3-point goals—Pendleton 4-20 (Dakota Sams 3-10, Tyler Newsom 1-8, Tanner Sweek 0-1, Cam Sandford 0-1), Crater 8-23 (Nate Bittle 4-11, Nathan Horton 3-6, Kruger Edwards 1-2, Nathan Johnson 0-1, Taishi Noble 0-1, Hunter Chubb 0-2). Fouled out—Pendleton-Tanner Sweek, Dakota Sams. Rebounds—Pendleton 40 (Redmond O’Hanlon 11), Crater 41 (Nate Bittle 16). Assists—Pendleton 8 (Kason Broncheau 2, Tanner Sweek 2, Dakota Sams 2), Crater 18 (Jayden Vranes 9). Total fouls—Pendleton 17, Crater 8. Technical fouls—Crater-Nathan Horton, Crater bench.