LEBANON — Under the guidance of first-year coach Justin Amaya, the Lebanon High boys basketball team has made a commitment to defense.
“We haven’t even run a lot of offensive stuff in practice yet,” senior guard Brandon Gonyea said after the Warriors’ season-opening 53-45 home victory over Redmond on Wednesday night. “I expect us to be the number one defensive team in the (Mid-Willamette Conference). Defense has been my main focus, and I think that’s been the team’s main focus in practice.”
Blessed with size and athleticism, the Warriors (1-0) have all the physical tools to be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Amaya, who was an assistant at Silverton last winter, believes defense is Lebanon’s path back to the 5A state playoffs.
“If you look at what (Jeff) Stolsig has done here with baseball and at what Ty (Tomlin) has done with football, it shows we have the athletes,” Amaya said. “It’s just about putting them in the right position to succeed. I know for us to be successful, defense has to be where we start and the offense will catch up.”
The Warriors played a mixture of man-to-man and zone Wednesday night, outscoring Redmond (0-1) 19-11 in the fourth quarter.
After trailing 37-34 early in the final period, Lebanon put together an 11-2 run to go up 45-39. Gonyea hit three of his game-high six 3-pointers during the scoring spurt.
“(Amaya) has built my confidence up better than any other coach,” Gonyea said. “There’s just a lot of stuff he tells us to do to get in defenders’ heads without being dirty or trash talking, just little things here and there. It’s been very helpful to learn.”
The Panthers cut it to 45-42 before a Joseph MaQatish putback and Lucas Ojeda corner 3 extended the lead to 50-42.
Gonyea finished with 22 points while sophomore post Koby Williamson had 12. Kyle Cox paced Redmond with 17 points and Josh Hair added 16.
Gonyea had 11 first-half points and Williamson added eight more as the Warriors held a slim 25-24 advantage at the break. Soto led all players with 12 points in the opening half.
“You could tell there were some first-game jitters from the boys,” Amaya said. “Just overthinking the offense, overpassing, we were giving up layups because we were thinking too much. Our posts are young so they made some young mistakes, but they did a lot of good things, too.”
Prior to helping out at Silverton, Amaya was the varsity head coach at 3A Amity for five seasons. Amaya took Amity to three consecutive state tournament appearances from 2014-16.
The opportunity at Lebanon was too good for Amaya, 33, to pass up.
“I was interested in the job and I heard a lot of really good things about the community,” said Amaya, who is Lebanon’s community liaison graduation coach. “So I was just like ‘yeah, let’s do this!’ I hang my hat on turning programs around and we want to be one of the better programs sooner rather than later.”
Amaya has taken over for Joe Williamson, who went 47-50 in four seasons at the helm. Lebanon was 10-13 last year and finished seventh in the MWC to miss the playoffs.
The Warriors lost star point guard Ty Hargis, a second-team all-MWC pick a season ago, to graduation. The team is also replacing forward Trey Elverfeld, an all-MWC honorable mention recipient as a senior in 2017.
Lebanon does have a strong group of seven seniors that provide depth and leadership. Koby Williamson and MaQatish, a freshman, give the Warriors size down low.
“The main goal for this team is we want to make the playoffs,” Gonyea said. “Because no matter what seed you are, there are always upsets.”
The Warriors resume nonconference play Saturday with another home game against Ridgeview. Lebanon’s MWC opener is scheduled for Jan. 9 at Central.