Style points are irrelevant when it comes to postseason play.
Winning is all that matters, a fact the South Albany High boys basketball team is well aware of as it readies for another trip to Gill Coliseum for the OSAA 5A state tournament. The seventh-seeded Rebels (20-5), who nearly stumbled in the round of 16, have a rematch with No. 2 Crater (24-1) at 8:15 p.m. in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
The victor moves on to play No. 6 Mountain View or No. 3 Thurston in the semifinals. The losers will meet in the consolation bracket.
South scored just 16 first-half points — all courtesy of Jake Costello — and trailed by eight early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s home matchup with No. 10 Summit. But the senior-laden Rebels rallied down the stretch to pull out a 49-43 win, clinching a state tournament berth for the second straight year.
“I think that was a big stepping stone for us,” said Costello, a senior wing. “But that could be how every single game goes at Gill. You are playing the best of the best now, so to have that experience under out belt can only help us at this point.”
Third-year coach Justin Smith believed Saturday’s game was one of the Rebels’ worst shooting performances of the year.
South got back into it on the defensive end, forcing seven turnovers in the fourth quarter. Before long, the shots began to fall.
“Anytime you have seven seniors and have the leadership that we have, I didn’t expect us to roll over and lay down,” Smith said. “We came out in that fourth quarter and had a lot of energy and we wanted to make sure that we were still playing this week.”
Smith compared it to March Madness, where the eventual national champion usually overcomes at least one poor performance during the NCAA tournament.
North Carolina was lucky to beat Oregon in last year’s Final Four. The previous season, Villanova had close calls against Kansas and the Tar Heels en route to the national championship.
“And that’s how I felt Saturday went for us,” Smith said. “So I’m hoping that was our (bad) game and we come out this week and play better.”
The Rebels will need a much stronger performance Wednesday night to defeat Crater, a team that routed South 78-55 back in early December.
The Comets, who won the Midwestern League for their first conference title in 28 years, overwhelmed the visiting Rebels from the opening tip in Central Point.
“I think we got off the bus after a five-hour ride and they came ready to play,” Costello said of the first meeting. “They kind of whipped us for four quarters. I think we’re much more ready this time and we’re a completely different team.”
Crater is led by 6-foot-6 senior wing Kiefer Edwards, the MWL player of the year. Nate Bittle, a 6-9 freshman post, was also a first-team all-league pick.
Edwards averaged 21 points and 11.5 rebounds per game during the regular season. He is the engine for Crater’s offense that puts up 66.1 points per game.
“Their length is a big part of it, but they also have shooters,” South senior point guard Jaden Guilford said. “So you can’t focus too much on the big guys or else they will kick it out for 3. We have to be able to guard both aspects.”
While undersized at most positions, the Rebels will have experience on their side in the quarterfinals.
Prior to Saturday’s 51-43 victory over Hermiston, Crater had not won a postseason game in nine years. South’s core group is 4-3 in playoff action the past three seasons.
The Rebels also know what it’s like to compete in a tournament atmosphere at Gill Coliseum.
“I think we will walk in there and we won’t be shocked by the big stage,” Costello said. “We’ve been there before, obviously it’s still cool, but we’re there to handle business this year.”