PENDLETON — A year ago Columbia Christian freshman Ben Gregg was still in middle school, and the Knights ended their basketball season with a fourth place finish and graduated 12 seniors.
Fast forward to Saturday night, and the No. 2 seed with nearly an entire new roster was pitted against the No. 1 Western Mennonite Pioneers in the 2A state championship game.
At first, Columbia Christian’s youth showed. The Knights were outscored 15-9 in the opening quarter and committed seven turnovers against a seasoned team that loves to press and trap.
“They create chaos,” Columbia Christian head coach Bart Valentine said. “It was really tough to matchup with (Western Mennonite), because they press and trap and rotate and they are so active and they play so hard.
“So, that’s what we expected and early on, even though we talked about it, you can’t replicate it in practice. So, we got a little flustered with it and then we settled in and we were okay.”
Valentine’s message was simple. After the first quarter he told his team to stick to the game plan and chip away at their deficit.
Over the next two quarters, the Knights did just that to come away with a 65-61 victory and a shiny new trophy.
Aiding in Columbia Christian’s efforts was Gregg, who recorded a double-double in his first ever state title game. He notched 23 points and 19 rebounds, and after it was all said and done the 15-year-old barely knew what hit him.
“I don’t even know what I just did but it feels pretty good,” Gregg said.
Gregg also admitted that nerves his the Knights (29-1) early.
“We had to get the nerves out our first quarter,” he said, “but after that we were all good.”
In the second quarter, Columbia Christian went on a quick 11-4 run to take a three-point lead over the Pioneers (26-3). But Western Mennonite’s top scorers answered.
Sophomore Payton Richardson and junior Johnny Williams combined for six points in the final minute to give their squad a slight advantage entering the break.
Both teams kept that same energy throughout the second half, as the game whittled to a shoot out.
Behind Gregg’s game leading performance was fellow freshman Elijah Munyan with 13 points, junior Dominic Blake with 11 and sophomore Isiah Mariscal with 10.
For Western Mennonite, Richardson finished with 22 points, and 11 boards for a double-double of his own. Junior Keaton Hull notched 17 points and Williams followed with 16.
CCHS 9 19 18 19 — 65
WMHS 15 14 11 21 — 61
COLUMBIA CHRISTIAN — B. Gregg 23, E. Munyan 13, D. Blake 11, I. Mariscal 10, E. Bishop 8.
WESTERN MENNONITE — P. Richardson 22, K. Hull 17, J. Williams 16, A. Nicoli 5, J. Roth 1.
3-pointers — CCHS 6, WMHS 4. Free throws — CCHS 15-24, WMHS 9-13. Fouls — CCHS 15, WMHS 22.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.