Senior Ty May gets ready to tip-off Tuesday night's game opposite North Marion's Carter Reilly. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School boys basketball team is playing at a very high level right now. The Warriors are definitely deserving of No. 1 in both the OSAA rankings and the OSAAtoday coaches poll. I imagine a few exclamations of “wow” could be heard around 4A when folks got a look at how Philomath dismantled a pretty good North Marion squad  on Tuesday night.

Consider the team’s victories this season:

• Two wins over No. 2 Junction City by scores of 59-33 and 56-49. The Tigers were the 4A runner-up last season.

• Posted a 30-point win over No. 8 Henley in a tournament down in Eugene.

• Defeated Redmond, the No. 3-ranked team in Class 5A that is currently 11-4 overall.

• Shut down a strong Cascade Christian team (only No. 6 in the OSAA rankings but No. 2 in the coaches poll) by a count of 47-43.

• Took Anchorage Dimond down to the wire. Dimond, considered to be one of the top programs in Alaska’s largest classification, is the only team to beat Philomath this season.

• Dominated No. 5 North Marion, 80-37, in a game that the Warriors controlled from the opening tip-off. 

Philomath (13-1) still needs to play two conference games each against No. 3 Cascade and No. 7 Stayton and will need to face No. 5 North Marion next time on the road.

Many PHS fans always enjoy it when the Warriors defeat North Marion — it happened just last season in the first round of the playoffs. One of the most painful losses in program history occurred against North Marion in the 2015 state playoffs.

The Warriors appeared to be a strong bet to win the state title and had defeated the Huskies twice by 20 points during the regular season. But in the 4A semifinals, the Warriors stumbled in a 61-54 loss and ended up fifth (assistant coach Trey Ecker was on that team).

A lot of good basketball remains for PHS this season but Coach Blake Ecker had to be happy with what he saw Tuesday night.

Girls basketball team improving

Philomath High’s girls have been finding ways to win as that team matures and discovers its identity. If you remember, the Warriors had a rough stretch in December — in particular in one week with three straight losses to South Albany, Gladstone and Marist Catholic.

PHS senior Abigail Brown has been tough to stop inside for opponents. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The team’s other two losses occurred in mid-December to Astoria and then in the tournament at Alaska against the host school in the championship game.

But the Warriors have reeled off four straight victories now with wins over Estacada, Madras, Newport and North Marion. And they haven’t really been close with an average margin-of-victory over that four-game stretch of 21.8 points.

There’s no question that this team is different from the one that took the state title last season. Sage Kramer was a special player, the type you might see once in a generation, so you knew there would be some adjustments with this year’s squad.

In the coaches poll, the Warriors (9-5 overall) are back up to No. 5 and in the OSAA rankings are sitting at No. 6.

By the way, those three losses that happened in the same week in December — those teams are having very good seasons so far. Class 5A South Albany (beat PHS by five points) has a 13-2 record and ranked No. 3. Gladstone (beat PHS by six points) is sitting at 14-3 and ranked No. 3. And Marist Catholic has an 11-5 mark and is ranked No. 10. Marist had home-court advantage and caught Philomath in its worst outing of the season.

As for the loss to Astoria later in the month, that particular team is now 15-2 and ranked No. 2. The Warriors took their Alaska opponent into overtime and would’ve won the game if not for some unfortunate miscues in the final seconds of regulation.

Let’s say this — things could get interesting the rest of the way. Games next week against Stayton and Cascade should provide some insight.

PHS wrestlers doing well on the mat

Philomath has a real shot at performing well on the grand stage again this season at the state tournament, which by the way will return to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. I’d expect the Warriors to again be well-represented.

Freshman Riley Barrett’s results so far this season indicate that this kid has a special talent on the mat. I know that before the season even started, Coach Troy Woosley was telling me about a very special freshman that was coming up and would have an immediate impact on the varsity program. His two losses came to very good opponents on losses by decision of 8-5 and 7-5. It will be fun to see how Barrett’s season unfolds.

Philomath has several other wrestlers with opportunities to get their names up on the wrestling room wall. Ben Hernandez knows what that’s all about and he’s been putting together a solid senior season with a 22-3 record. I’ve admired Hernandez’s work ethic in cross-country and wrestling and is one of those kids that you hope finishes on a high note. I believe he’ll be moving down to 113 soon after going at 120 up to this point in the season.

Senior Caleb Blackburn has put together a pretty good record of his own so far at 19-2. Wrestling at 126, he’s an athlete that I’ve seen come a long way over the past four years. He’s another one that you hope finishes strong and leaves his mark on the program.

Both freshman Porter Compton (21-10) and senior Chase Ringwald (17-6)  have been wrestling well and have met one another a few times at 138. Compton beat Ringwald at the Benton County Championships on a 5-1 decision but Ringwald evened the score in last weekend’s Screamin’ Eagle with a 5-1 decision of his own. Those two wrestlers combined have won 70% of their matches.

Sophomore River Sandstrom has been wrestling at a high level over the past few weeks and is now 17-3 at 106 pounds. And senior David Griffith is just getting back into the swing of things after being sidelined with an injury and has a 10-4 record with most of his matches at 170 pounds.

If you want to get a look at the Warriors, they will be hosting a duals meet on Wednesday evening with Cascade, Cottage Grove and North Marion scheduled to be in town. The action begins at 5 p.m.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

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.

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