Looking for a little competition to work on some things heading into the postseason, the Philomath High School boys basketball team this past Friday couldn’t find another school to play. But instead of settling for intrasquad scrimmages only leading up to the Class 4A playoffs, head coach Blake Ecker came up with the solution — an alumni squad.
Don’t go so far as to picture a selection of older alumni going up against the high school boys. Sure, it could’ve been interesting to see a group of men in their late 30s — let’s say members of the 2002 state championship team — hitting the court to challenge the youngsters. No, this group of six players — yes, that’s five on the floor and only one available on the bench — were in their early 20s and can still get up and down the court in an efficient manner. They also haven’t lost much, if any, shooting ability and can still crash the boards when needed.
A collection of 20 photos from the Feb. 25, 2022, basketball game between the Philomath High School boys and PHS alumni team.
In the end, the alumni held on for a 58-57 victory over the high schoolers. Cal Stueve scored 30 points and Riley Davis had 12 in the one-point thriller.
“A lot of memories come back, you know, in terms of Riley and Cal and how Riley gets his hands on balls … he’s always done a really good job at that,” Ecker said. “And Cal’s athleticism is beyond measure. And so it was fun.”
That was the most-uttered word of the evening — fun.
Said Davis, “That was a lot of fun, especially just getting back in the gym. Like Cal said, ‘it’s been six, seven years since I’ve been in this gym’ but it was fun.”
Indeed, Stueve and Davis last suited up for the Warriors back in 2017 — six years ago.
“They can definitely shoot the ball better than we did in high school, so that’s cool,” Davis said, throwing out a compliment for the current PHS lineup. “And they’ve got one hell of a coach, too” — that comment within earshot of Ecker.
“It was fun having a crowd like with the teachers and parents — it was good to see them,” said Marshall Brattain, Class of 2019 alum who wore No. 53. “And it was fun playing against some younger classmates and getting the win.”
Others on the alumni team included Daniel Lundy (Class of 2019), Trey Ecker (Class of 2015) and Dawson Brattain (Class of 2016). Shane Stueve stepped in to serve as the alumni head coach.
Coach Ecker got out the team’s black road uniforms for the alumni players to wear. A few might’ve been a little tight as post-high school weight sets in.
“I’m kind of afraid to see what my old number would’ve looked like on me but luckily, I had the biggest uniform,” Marshall Brattain said.
In reality, the alumni team just wasn’t thrown together on a whim — the players are familiar with one another through their involvement at the rec level. In fact, the team won its Timberhill league in Corvallis.
Philomath had looked around for a tune-up opponent but wasn’t able to find another 5A or 6A school willing to get on the floor with the Warriors. Coach Ecker said some of those teams were still in their league seasons when called upon and the situation could’ve actually hurt the opposing school’s RPI (ratings power index), which in turn could have a negative impact on OSAA rankings.
“It’s a hard situation to figure out,” Ecker said. “We’ve done this before with an alumni night and so it was good. It’s a good group of guys and I thought they gave us some great work.”
The game was close throughout with the high school team alumni leading 22-21 at halftime. In the third quarter, the alumni broke a 28-28 tie with a 9-0 run, a stretch that included six points by Davis along with a 3-pointer by Stueve.
But the high school squad climbed back in it with a run of its own to end the quarter. Down 41-34 with 1:46 left in the third, PHS scored eight straight points on a Jacob Peters put-back and two straight 3-pointers by Cole Beardsley.
In the fourth, Stueve buried a 3-pointer to put the alumni back on top and the team never trailed again. The high school squad made it interesting at the end, however. Trailing by nine with only 1:40 left in the game, PHS nearly completed a miraculous comeback.
Cole Matthews drove for two with 1:26 left to cut the deficit to seven. The alumni then had a few miscues, including an offensive foul and a blown fast-break layup. Matthews capitalized and hit a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left to pull the high schoolers to within 56-52.
Davis countered with a basket to get the alumni lead back up to six but Beardsley responded in a big way. First, he hit with 17 seconds left to cut the deficit back to four and following a turnover, Beardsley hit another 3-pointer to make the score, 58-57, with 7 seconds left.
The alumni team missed on the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity at the free-throw line with 4 seconds left but secured the rebound to maintain possession. Another quick foul put the alumni at the foul line again and in a repeat, missed the front end of the 1-and-1. The high schoolers weren’t able to secure much of a final possession for a chance at the win, other than a full-court desperation shot by Matthews.
“There were some things tonight that we needed to address after the game and you know, we’ve got to pick up our intensity level in practice and be a little more solid in that way,” Coach Ecker said following the game as his attention transitioned into state playoff mode.
Beardsley had a huge game statistically with 23 points for the high school team, which included five 3-pointers. Matthews and Ty May also hit double digits with 10 apiece.
Philomath will take an overall record of 18-5 and No. 5 seed into the first round of the 4A playoffs, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at home against North Marion. The Huskies will bring a 12-10 record into the game, advancing out of the play-in round with a 79-69 win over Mazama.
“Every team we play from here on out is going to be good and they’re going to play hard,” Ecker said. “So we need to pick up our level quite a bit. As you could see here, we were very tentative to start the ballgame with four turnovers in a row. But the guys did a good job coming back.”
If the Warriors can get past North Marion on Friday, the team would advance to the 4A tournament, scheduled for March 10-12 at North Bend and Marshfield high schools in Coos Bay.