With boys basketball ready to tip-off on Saturday night in Philomath High’s gym, the Warriors head into the season believing that they have just as good of a chance as any to compete for the postseason’s top prize.
“I think we have every opportunity — we’re among a handful of teams that can win it all,” longtime PHS boys basketball coach Blake Ecker said. “But you know, it just takes so much luck and so much of it is timing — you have to be healthy, you have to be playing well at the right time. There are a lot of factors there.”
The team will get an immediate test at 7 p.m. Saturday against Junction City in the season opener. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the OSAAtoday coaches poll released earlier this week with Philomath coming in at No. 3.
The Warriors have a pretty good group of experienced players back in uniform with seniors Ty May, Cole Beardsley and Chad Russell, and junior Preston Kramer.
May, a fourth-year starter who stands 6-foot-6, will draw the attention of opposing defenses. A threat to score inside with power or outside with finesse, he averaged 14.6 points per game last season. May, a first-team all-league pick last season, is also a force on defense with rebounding and blocked shots.
Beardsley, another first-team all-conference pick last season, looks to continue the momentum he experienced through the second half of last season. Beardsley averaged 12.9 points per game over the team’s final eight games and his presence on the court compliments those of May.
Russell, tallest on the team at 6-7, brings a strong presence inside and has exhibited improvement with his passing and on defense. Kramer, a 6-2 junior, contributed primarily in a sixth-man role last season but appears to be penciled in as a starter heading into this season.
Senior Brody Bushnell, described by the coach as more of a ball distributor, returns to the basketball program this season and will have an impact on the lineup.
Junior Jacob Peters is another strong player who put in a great deal of work over the offseason. Junior Connor Harms, a 6-4 junior, represents another physical presence for the Warriors. And junior Kaden Muir has shown improvement with solid skills all around.
Also in the mix for minutes on the court are 6-4 junior Owen Heiken, 6-3 sophomore Hudson Raab and 6-0 junior Kash Lindsey.
“I don’t think we’ll be playing as many guys as we have in the past,” Ecker said when asked about team depth. “There’s definitely a drop-off but those other guys are capable. They just need a little bit more experience underneath their belt and I think we can get them a little more time at the JV level and hopefully continue on later in the varsity season.”
The Warriors overall have a very tough schedule. Besides the opener against No. 1 Junction City, Philomath will face at least four other teams currently ranked in that preseason poll — No. 2 Cascade, No. 6 Stayton, No. 9 Gladstone and No. 10 North Marion. It’s also possible that the team could end up playing No. 8 Marist Catholic since the Warriors will be playing in that school’s tournament next weekend.
Philomath’s game on Saturday will actually be the team’s only home appearance in December. Along with the Dec. 9-10 appearance in the Marist tournament, the Warriors are also entered in two other tournaments — Feb. 15-17 at Marshfield in Coos Bay and Dec. 28-30 in Ketchikan, Alaska.