MISSION — A feeling of uneasiness filled the Nixyaawii gymnasium on Saturday evening, as the Nixyaawii boys basketball team sputtered out of the gates against the Powder Valley Badgers.
On paper, the game was set up to be one of the best and toughest of the year for both sides as the Badgers and Golden Eagles sat atop the Old Oregon League with identical 7-0 records. But Powder Valley started the game playing with a different gear than Nixyaawii and led 13-6 after one quarter of play.
But on the back of freshman guard Mick Schimmel, Nixyaawii settled down and was able to grind out a seemingly daunting comeback to secure a 55-51 victory over Powder Valley to remain atop the league standings. Schimmel, who scored a game-high 31 points for Nixyaawii (12-4, 9-0 OOL), said that the Golden Eagles could feel the extra pressure coming into the game and he believes they let it get to them at the start.
“We came into this game and picked everything up a level because they were undefeated like us,” Schimmel said, “so we wanted to come with 100 percent effort and bring it to them. But they came out a lot stronger than us and we weren’t prepared enough for that, but later we settled and got with them.”
Powder Valley’s (13-4, 8-1) full-court pressure defense really got in the head of the Nixyaawii players, as the Badgers forced several bad passes and turnovers as the Golden Eagles tried to break the press. Combining their nine turnovers with a 2-13 shooting performance in the first quarter, and it was easy to see why the Nixyaawii fans were nervous.
But in the second quarter, Nixyaawii finally got some offense rolling which helped feed a better defensive effort, too. Nixyaawii held Powder Valley to just two made field goals in the quarter and put together 17 points of their own and went to the halftime break trailing by just 3 points at 26-23.
“I think they were able to calm down a little bit in the second,” Nixyaawii coach Shane Rivera said. “We were playing terrible to start, we turned the ball over a lot more than we normally do, but we were only down three at half, so the message was simply ‘It can’t get any worse really’ ad the kids came out focused.”
Nixyaawii finally tied the game at 33-33 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter on nifty reverse lay-in by Deven Barkley, but the score was quickly answered with a Powder Valley 3-pointer just 20 seconds later to put the Badgers back on top. Nearly 40 seconds later, Schimmel sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Golden Eagles in front for the first time in the game 38-36 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
Then in the fourth quarter the teams traded buckets until it was tied at 44-44 with 4:02 left to play when Nixyaawii forward Chandler Case received the entry pass from Schimmel, backed down his defender and layed in a basket off the glass and got fouled for an and-one opportunity. The basket brought along a deafening roar from the Nixyaawii faithful as the Golden Eagles took the 47-44 lead — which they would not relinquish.
Case, who finished the game with nine points and 12 rebounds, was a force down the stretch for Nixyaawii, with all nine of his points coming in the second half, including a 5-6 performance at the free throw line. But aside from that, Case and his 6-foot-6 frame shut down the inside game for Powder Valley’s offense, limiting the Badgers to a one-dimensional team for most of the half.
Rivera said that having his young team pick up a win like this is huge for each kid’s confidence level.
“This team is all new faces pretty much this year and they’re not real familiar with the league,” he said. “Now everybody knows us and they’re confidence is high and I’m sure their eyes are wide open now realizing that we’re one of the top teams and they can prove it too, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Now the Golden Eagles and Badgers have a quick turnaround, as Nixyaawii travels to North Powder on Tuesday evening for a rematch.
“We’ll have to give it an even better effort there,” Rivera said. “I’m sure they’ll be looking for revenge. Everybody’s always going to be coming after us and we’ve been sending that message all year and so far the kids have responded.”
THE STREAK CONTINUES
Nixyaawii’s win over Powder Valley means that the Golden Eagles have still yet to lose a league game (33-0) since coming into the Old Oregon League for the 2014-2015 season. In fact, their last league loss was on Jan. 17, 2014 when they were a part of the Big Sky League and Ione beat Nixyaawii 92-66 in Ione.
That streak will be tested once again on Tuesday against Powder Valley.
PV 13 13 13 12 — 51
NCS 6 17 15 17 — 55
POWDER VALLEY — I. Colton 19, G. McGinn 13, T. Eubanks 8, H. Davis 5, B. Tibbits 3, C. Brown 3.
NIXYAAWII — M. Schimmel 31, C. Case 9, D. Barkley 8, N. Enright 3, S. Hoisington 2, A. Matamoros 2.
3-pointers — PV 6, NCS 2. Free throws — PV 9-25, NCS 13-21. Fouls — PV 21, NCS 18. Fouled out — N. McCall, C. Brown (PV), D. Barkley (NCS).
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.