Warriors senior Chad Russell bangs underneath to create a shot opportunity. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Philomath High’s boys basketball team would not be intimidated.

Going up against an Anchorage school with 1,600 students that many predict will win the state title with a lineup that includes a couple of major college prospects, the Warriors welcomed the challenge.

Philomath, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A back in Oregon with a campus of 448 students, proved that it belonged on the same court. And the Warriors nearly came home with the championship trophy, coming up short in the end on Friday by a 56-52 count.

“We’d punch them, hit in the gut and they’d come right back and get us again,” said PHS coach Blake Ecker, who has been bringing teams to Alaska every other year for the past two decades. “They got up a little bit and we just couldn’t quite get over the top of it. It felt like two heavyweights just battling in a slugfest.”

Dimond (3-1) had just enough in its tank for the edge down the stretch. Maguire Hamey, a 6-foot-7 senior, scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.

“We definitely were the underdog in this game,” Ecker said. “They’re probably going to win the state championship here in Alaska — that’s what everybody’s saying … I’m proud of our guys. We battled and competed.”

PHS junior Jacob Peters tries to find an opening to the hoop against Dimond’s defense. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath (9-1) had a bit of a slow start with just one hoop through the first three minutes but that quickly changed with Ty May burying a 3-pointer and Jacob Peters scoring off an offensive rebound just 30 seconds apart to tie it up.

The Warriors stretched their scoring run to 9-0 with Peters scoring another hoop and Chad Russell converting an offensive board into points for an 11-7 lead. Preston Kramer on a drive and Peters underneath also led to points but Dimond tied the score at the first-quarter buzzer on a 3-pointer by tournament MVP Xzavier Baker, a 6-5 senior.

The back-and-forth battle continued in the second quarter. Dimond went up 21-15 in the first 45 seconds with back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Chance Kile but the Warriors responded. May scored on a layup and Cole Beardsley  sank a couple of free throws to cut the deficit to two.

Later on in the quarter, Philomath took the lead and then went up by four on back-to-back 3-pointers by Beardsley. May and Peters also scored points and the Warriors held a 33-32 lead at the break.

“I thought we had them in a pretty good position at halftime and like I told the guys, ‘hey, we can get this thing, let’s take care of business,’” Ecker said.

Peters was contributing heavily on the offensive end with 10 of his team-high 16 points coming in the first half.

“He really played well in that first half, really scored a bunch of points and was getting some rebounds,” Ecker said. “He’s unassuming and you look at him, he’s 6-1, 6-2 maybe, but he has such a nose for the basketball and can do a really good job tapping the glass and finishing inside.”

PHS senior Ty May makes a move to the hoop. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

May and Peters scored in the first two minutes of the third quarter to give Philomath a 37-34 lead. But the Lynx went on a 7-0 run to try to take control. Philomath wouldn’t fold and responded with Peters and May baskets to tie the score, 41-41.

Hamey, however, had a hot hand in the second half for Dimond and his 3-pointer with 2:08 left in the third gave his team a lead that they would not relinquish. Both teams saw key players get into foul trouble late in the quarter, however. Philomath’s May picked up his fourth with 51 seconds left and Hamey had to sit with his fourth with 43 seconds remaining.

“We got into a little bit of foul trouble and had to sit Ty for quite a bit and we’re not super deep by any means … that hurt having him out,” Ecker said.

May ended up sitting most of the fourth quarter but Philomath hung tough and nearly pulled it off late. Three minutes in, Russell drew a couple of fouls to get to the free-throw line and he hit 2 of 4 to cut Dimond’s lead to 46-45. After the Lynx went back up by four, Kramer scored off an in-bounds pass to make it 49-47.

Dimond again went up by four but Russell then hit to cut the lead to 51-49 — that coming with 2:58 left in the game. Beardsley made 3 of 4 free throws during a couple of foul-line appearances with 2:30 and 1:43 left, respectively, to cut the Lynx lead to 53-52.

Senior Cole Beardsley hits the first of back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Dimond added a point to its lead on a free throw with 1:32 remaining and Philomath had a chance to tie on the other end but couldn’t convert. Hamey scored on an open layup at 32 seconds left to put his team up by four and that’s how it ended.

“I know they’re really disappointed and felt like we could have won the game — and we could’ve won,” Ecker said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way in certain aspects.”

Philomath entered the game knowing it would need to deal with Dimond’s relentless press defense.

“Our press break is one that we have for that exact 1-2-1-1 press,” Ecker said. “We worked on it today and we saw that when we would reverse the ball, the cross-court pass was wide open. They picked it off a couple times but for the most part, it was beatable and breakable.”

Philomath did have limited turnovers but the difference in the second half came down to Dimond’s offensive boards and Philomath’s foul troubles. Ecker said his team appeared to be getting a little tired toward the end as well.

Beardsley, May and Russell were all named to the all-tournament team.

Philomath’s next game is scheduled for Jan. 10 at Estacada.

Philomath High finished second at the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

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.