Philomath senior Cole Beardsley pulls up for a jump shot in the Warriors' 59-33 win over Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A boys basketball preseason coaches poll, Junction City had the appearance of a team that could give Philomath everything it could handle and more when the two teams clashed Saturday night in their respective season openers.

But instead of a back-and-forth basketball battle that might go down to the last shot, Philomath never trailed and dominated throughout in a 59-33 victory. Seniors Ty May and Chase Beardsley led the Philomath offensive charge by scoring 20 and 16 points, respectively.

Is it too early to call the Junction City win a “statement game?”

“I don’t know about that, I mean, they’re No. 1 but we expected this,” Beardsley said. “I mean, we were ranked third in the state and we didn’t like that, so we were going to come out here and show them what we’re about.”

Junction City’s offense could not do much against a 2-3 zone defense that Philomath put on the floor. The Warriors typically go with a 1-3-1 but head coach Blake Ecker started to experiment earlier in the week with the 2-3 zone during practice.

“I started looking at going ‘they look really good in this’ … we’re really long and able to get our hands on basketballs,” Ecker said. “We watched a little film on them and knew a little bit of what they did from seeing them at the jamboree. So we thought we could get our hands on the balls and limit what they do with their best players.”

Warriors senior Ty May scores underneath in the first half. May finished with a game-high 20 points. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Assistant coach Trey Ecker along with Beardsley and teammate Preston Kramer watched the Tigers in their Nov. 30 jamboree games against Western Christian and North Marion.

“We noticed they didn’t have much for shooters, so we turned to a 2-3 zone in practice,” Beardsley said. “We’re long and lengthy … I mean, we can deflect any pass, get on any shot, which we did.”

The strategy worked to the tune of only 12 points allowed in the first half. In fact, Junction City failed to score a single field goal in the second quarter as the Warriors pulled away.

“They were probably expecting our 1-3-1 and I know they practiced against it,” Ecker said. “We knew what they were going to do and how they were going to run their offense.”

Ecker coached four of Junction City’s players during summer league basketball and as a result, had insight about their tendencies.

Meanwhile, Philomath’s offense created scoring opportunities and started to pull away late in the first quarter. May hit the team’s first hoop of the season with a 3-pointer, senior Chad Russell scored inside, Beardsley added two on a drive in the lane and junior Jacob Peters hit back-to-back shots as the Warriors built a 13-4 lead.

PHS junior Jacob Peters scrambles for a loose ball in the second half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

By the end of the quarter, Philomath had an 18-11 advantage with Beardsley hitting a couple of baskets, one of those turning into a traditional three-point play when he drew a foul. The Warriors really turned up the heat in the second quarter by outsourcing the visitors, 17-1.

May got into a nice rhythm by scoring 13 of his 20 points in the second quarter. The only other points came on an inside basket by Russell and a couple of free throws by Beardsley. Philomath’s advantage at the break was 35-12.

“Ty came out and he did not miss,” Beardsley said. “That just grew with the team and I think momentum took over.”

Despite the 23-point lead, Philomath needed to remain focused in the second half considering what happened last season. In that one, the Tigers rallied from a 14-point deficit and took their only lead on the game’s final shot. Ecker wanted to make sure the players remembered as they sat in the locker room at halftime.

Junior Preston Kramer brings the ball up the floor vs. the Tigers. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Said Beardsley, “Last year, we were up 30-16 on them and ended up blowing it … we made sure that didn’t happen again.”

Philomath’s scoring slowed a little over those final two quarters but the defense continued to stymie Junction City’s offense for the most part. The Tigers finished the third with a 7-0 run but their deficit was just too big to try to stage any sort of realistic comeback.

Beardsley, Peters, Kramer and Kaden Muir all contributed baskets and the Warriors hit 4 of 8 free throws over the final eight minutes to account for the final score.

Gunner Rothenberger scored nine to lead Junction City (0-1) scorers.

Ecker expressed his friendship and respect for Junction City coach Craig Rothenberger prior to tip-off. With a little more than three minutes remaining in warmups, Ecker grabbed the microphone and shared with the crowd that Rothenberger was in his final season as a head coach with a career that has spanned 52 years — 42 at Junction City.

Junction City coach Craig Rothenberger tries out a rocking chair that Blake Ecker gave to him as a retirement gift while PHS players Cole Beardsley, left, and Ty May look on. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

May and Beardsley then carried a rocking chair out onto the court as a gift for the longtime coach. The chair included an engraving that marked the occasion.

“It was awesome, he even got in there and rocked in it for a minute,” Ecker laughed. “He wasn’t expecting that — he had no idea it was coming.”

Philomath (1-0) is scheduled to play Tuesday at South Albany.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.