PHS boys basketball team
Philomath defeated Stayton for the third time this season on Saturday. The 49-33 win gave the Warriors fourth place at the 4A tournament. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

By the time Philomath High’s longtime boys basketball coach Blake Ecker returned to his own room after making bed-check rounds on Friday night, he had a positive feeling about how his team might come out the following morning against Stayton.

“A lot of the seniors were like, ‘Yeah, let’s go, we’re going to beat them,’” Ecker said Saturday after Philomath beat Stayton, 49-33. “So I felt good about that last night. And they came out and played well.”

Those may seem like statements you would expect players to make on the eve of their final game at the state tournament. But after a one-point loss in the first round and needing to play back-to-back 9 a.m. games, plus facing a team that the Warriors had already played twice this season, you never know how high school kids will react.

Ecker said a primary message to the team was to approach the game possession by possession and work on building a lead. The Warriors led by 10 at halftime.

“I said to them at halftime, ‘Look, ‘we built the foundation … let’s keep building it and hopefully it’s a three-story house by the time we’re done tonight.”

Philomath did exactly that with a methodical, consistent performance that resulted in the Warriors building a first-half lead and just continuing to add on.

In the early going, the two teams were tied 8-8 before Philomath took the lead on a 3-pointer by junior Cole Beardsley. After Stayton countered with a Garrett Callsen jump shot, the Warriors finished the quarter with two layups by junior Chad Russell for a 15-10 advantage going into the second.

Philomath junior Chad Russell makes a move against Seaside in the team’s quarterfinal game. Russell’s work on Stayton’s Garrett Callsen was big in Philomath’s victory for fourth place. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Eagles got back to within two on a couple of occasions in the second quarter but never took the lead away from Philomath. The Warriors created some space over the final 5:40 of the first half by going on a 10-2 run.

During that stretch, Beardsley scored five points, including a 3-pointer, sophomore Jacob Peters converted on a layup and sophomore Preston Kramer buried a 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes left for a 27-17 lead.

Philomath pretty much maintained the double-digit lead over the rest of the game. Stayton did get its deficit down to eight after a Jacob Axmaker hoop and a Callsen 3-pointer but Philomath countered with a trey of its own when junior Ty May hit from the outside.

Then the Philomath defense flexed its muscle. In fact, the Warriors shutout Stayton after that Callsen hoop over the final 3:56 of the third quarter.

“We did a nice job of playing defense, rebounding the basketball,” Ecker said. “I thought we did great on Axmaker and then also their post player Callsen. They were solid against them.”

Defensively for PHS, Beardsley was on Axmaker and Russell had Callsen for most of the game.

Blake Ecker on the 2021-22 season: “I’m proud of them — we ended up having a really good year.” (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

In all, Philomath had a 13-0 scoring run that extended into the fourth quarter. The Warriors’ biggest lead was 21 with 5:38 left in the game when Peters converted on a traditional three-point play.

Philomath’s offensive balance was well illustrated on the final stat sheet. Beardsley had a team-high 10 points, Peters had six, Russell finished with eight, May had seven and Carson Gerding finished with six.

“It’s good having a deep bench and it’s served us pretty well,” Ecker said. “It’s a really unique situation that we’ve had this year — it doesn’t happen very often, especially when you look at other teams and they’re only playing five, six guys and that’s it. We’re able to get some guys in and get them some playing time.”

Peters has been especially good off the bench in the team’s two wins in Coos Bay.

“Peters has done fantastic,” Ecker said. “He sprained his ankle last night late … but it healed up pretty good, pretty quick and the trainer they have here did a fantastic job with him. He said it was a little sore.”

Philomath had to play its last two games without senior Logan Carter, who suffered a bad ankle sprain in the quarterfinals loss to Seaside.

Callsen finished with 12 points to lead Stayton, which finished with a 19-7 record. Axmaker had nine.

Ecker said his team responded well after the frustrating one-point loss on Thursday — especially with the come-from-behind victory on Friday against Baker in the consolation semifinals.

“I tip my hat to those guys, they played hard,” he said. “They could’ve folded it in when they were down 16 against Baker but we did a great job battling back and pulling off a solid win.”

Philomath’s record ends up at 20-6 for the season.

Said Ecker, “I’m proud of them — we ended up having a really good year.”

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.