The Neah-Kah-Nie High School boys basketball team is peaking at the right time of the year while gaining momentum for the upcoming Northwest League District Playoffs in mid February.
By Mike Weber
For the Headlight-Herald
The No. 13 ranked Pirates (6-4 Northwest League, 10-6 overall) won their third straight contest while taking over sole possession of third place in the Northwest League standings following an impressive 59-51 come-from-behind win over the No. 26 ranked City Christian Lions (5-5 NWL, 8-10) Saturday at City Christian High in Portland. The win followed a 55-49 home victory Friday over the Portland Christian Royals (4-5 NWL, 9-9) in a game that included a power outage with 40 seconds left in the contest.
Prior to the game, the two squads were tied for third place in the league with identical 5-4 records. So there was a lot riding on the outcome of the game with third place up for grabs for the winner.
The revenge seeking Pirates lost at home 60-59 to City Christian on Dec. 12, 2018 and were intent on proving that they were indeed the better team and that’s exactly what they did. Neah-Kah-Nie, guided by third-year coach Tim Gienger, certainly played one of its best road games of the year and had the advantage in nearly every statistical category while outplaying the Lions in every facet of the contest.
“It was a good win and it was actually our third win in row versus teams that we were tied with in the standings,” Gienger said. “We made a great comeback in the game we played against them (Lions) earlier this season and then we fell one point short. It was good to come to their place and get the win and we’re sure happy to be in third place by ourselves.”
The Pirates outrebounded the Lions, they made accurate and key passes to players in scoring position under the basket and outhustled City Christian throughout the game from start-to-finish.
“In the last three games we’ve been moving the ball around better and passing to the guy who is open and in good scoring position and we’ve been making those shots,” Gienger said. “Our two-three zone defense was good and we prevented their best shooters from taking good shots. We knew who would be taking their outside shots and we focused on just neutralizing him.”
Neah-Kah-Nie combined a strong perimeter shooting effort (seven three point field goals) and utilized the powerful inside scoring tandem of senior post players AJ Pieper (12 points) and Chase Dorsey (13 points) to gain the advantage on the scoreboard.
“It feels great being in third place because we’ve worked really hard after starting out kind of slow at the beginning of the season,” Pieper said. “In the last five games, we’ve really stepped up our energy level and just our overall effort. We’re playing really good right now and it feels great. We definitely were seeking revenge after losing to them at home earlier this season. We made sure that we played with a higher energy level and that we finished our shots better at the rim.”
It was a seesaw battle early in the contest with four lead changes and four ties scores in the opening quarter. The teams traded baskets early in the first quarter and it was deadlocked at 6-6. Dorsey then domonstrated his strong offensive versatility as he fired in a jumper from the free throw line, lifting the Pirates in front 8-6.
“We’ve worked pretty hard while putting in a lot of time and effort to get to where we are and things are finally paying off for us after kind of a rocky start to the regular season,” Dorsey said. “We have a couple of upcoming games that we’re hoping to win and we’re just focusing right now on finishing the season strong.”
On another Pirate offensive possession, Dorsey scored on a driving layup in the lane, putting Neah-Kah-Nie up 10-6. Dorsey followed with a shot in the post to give the Pirates a 12-8 advantage. After City Christian came back and knotted it 12-12, Pieper scored on a short jumper in the lane to give the Pirates a 14-12 lead. City Christian’s Isaac Johnson then fired in a buzzer beating three-pointer to give the Lions a 15-14 lead at the end of the quarter.
“We had good ball movement and we worked from the inside to the outside pretty well,” Dorsey said. “I think we can hold onto third for the rest of the season and we’ll have a good chance to qualify for the state tournament in Pendleton (Feb. 28-Mar. 2), which is the goal we had at the beginning of the season.”
The Lions momentum continued in the second quarter and they had a 7-0 run to take a 22-14 advantage, which marked their largest lead of the game. NKN then responded with an impressive 14-0 run to overcome the deficit and they never trailed again.
Back-to-back three-point field goals by senior Josh Elinsky (team-high 17 points) and junior Eric Lambert (eight points) and a jumper in the lane by Dorsey knotted it 22-22 with 1:33 left in the quarter. Junior Destin Donaldson (eight points) then fired in consecutive three-pointers to help propell NKN in front 28-22 and the Pirates led 28-24 at halftime.
“It was a really huge win for us and we just played with a high energy level to get the win,” Donaldson said. “I just feel like we play better when we come out and play with lots of energy like we did tonight. This is really great to help us secure third place in league and we hope to stay in third for the rest of the season, which would be a huge advantage for us.”
The two evenly matched squads then traded points throughout most of the third quarter and Pieper’s turnaround baseline jumper provided NKN with a 42-37 lead. Elinsky drove in for a layup on fast break, putting NKN up 44-37 after three quarters.
The Pirates offense then shifted into high gear in the fourth quarter as NKN built a double digit lead to take control of the game. Dorsey, Donaldson and Pieper combined on a 7-2 run to help lift NKN in front 51-39 and force a Lions timeout with 6:05 remaining in the contest.
Neah-Kah-Nie was now enjoying a good offensive rhythm and the Pirates continued to score often in the post area, while they extended their advantage to the largest lead of the game at 59-44 with 2:07 left in the contest. City Christian scored the final seven points to narrow the final margin to 59-51.
“Everyone played very well and we had good balanced scoring,” Gienger said. “We rebounded and passed well and we had lots of assists. I’m pretty happy with the results of the game and it was just a really good win for us.”
NKN will try to extend its win streak when it meets the Vernonia Loggers (3-6 NWL, 7-9) in its next game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Vernonia High School. The Pirates then follow with a home game Friday at 7:30 against the No. 7 ranked Knappa Loggers (7-2 NWL, 12-5). The Pirates won 51-48 at home over Vernonia earlier this season on Dec. 14, 2018 and should have a good opportunity to get a fourth straight victory.