This is the big time.
The scene is the Buffalo Dome in Madras, Friday and Saturday, with hundreds of fans energized for action-packed basketball.
No more mulligans, bad games or room for error on the big stage of the Big Sky Conference district playoffs.
The Sherman Huskies have been there and done that on their way to back-to-back district and state championship crowns, so the veteran players on the roster know how to handle any situation that is thrown their way.
Having seniors Reese Blake, Makoa Whitaker, Jacob Justesen and Treve Martin will go a long way toward establishing a calm on the hardwood, for their teammates Owen Christiansen, Keenan Coles, Tyler Jones, Luke Martin and Caleb Fritts.
“I think that’s one of the things we have been reminding our kids about, especially the seniors, they are short-timers all of a sudden,” Sherman head coach Gary Lewis said. “Their season and their careers, they are staring that right in the face. What we have continued to talk to them about is we do not want to end the season saying, ‘I wish I would have,’ meaning we have to continue to work hard and try to get better every day. We have still not reached our peak and we still have a few more games to get that back.”
The No. 2-ranked Huskies (22-2 overall, 14-0 league), who started the season without 1A Player of the Year Max Martin and graduated seniors Maverick Winslow, Isaiah Coles and Kyle Fields, are averaging three points fewer a game, going from 71.8 to 68.8, but improved defensively, dropping their totals by more than 7.3 points to 40.5 from 47.8.
Sherman started on a four-game win streak until a loss on Dec. 16, 2017 to 3A Cascade Christian (55-49), and then embarked on a 16-game winning streak, but suffered a 66-51 road loss at Yakama Tribal on Feb. 6.
Now that the team enters district play on a two-game win streak, Lewis thought the Yakama loss was a good thing on many fronts.
“It was a good reminder that if we don’t do things right, we can be beaten,” Lewis said. “We’ve talked very frankly with our kids that the only team that can beat us is us. We really feel that if we execute and do what we are supposed to do on both ends of the floor, we can play with anybody. That being said, when we don’t, that’s what happened to us at Yakama Tribal. They got us playing their game and we lost our focus and we lost our discipline and we lost the game. I think it was a good lesson for us.”
Sherman starts district action at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Arlington, a team they have defeated twice this season by an average margin of 33.5 points, including a 79-27 win on Feb. 3 in Moro.
The other time Sherman and Arlington played, the huskies survived for a 56-41 win on Jan. 13 at Arlington High School.
On the year, the Honkers are 13-10 and wound up at 9-5 against league foes.
Arlington scores 54.1 points a clip and allows 47.8, third-best in the Big Sky.
On a roster of nine athletes, the Honkers have seniors Thomas Evans and Brett Troutman, TJ Longacre and Diego Valdez as the juniors, and Jacob Shandy and Wesley Goad are sophomores.
Jed Knight, Jace Troutman and Heri Cazares are the three freshmen.
The Honkers have single wins over Crane and Cove, split league games versus Horizon, lost twice to Condon-Wheeler and posted sweeps against Dufur, Mitchell-Spray, South Wasco County and Ione.
If the Huskies come out victorious, they face off against the winner of Friday’s game between Horizon Christian and Condon-Wheeler at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, right after the girls’ finale.
While the Huskies have made goals of a return trip to baker City and a third straight 1A crown, Lewis is not letting his team put the cart before the horse.
“It is a matter of execution on both ends of the floor, a matter of staying disciplined and playing our game. That has been our approach all year long,” Lewis said. “Obviously, when you get to this point in the season, now you are starting to step up and the competition is becoming stiffer and stiffer and the stakes are higher. You have to be very aware of your opponents and what they like to do. Ultimately, it comes down to our own execution.”
The Sherman girls take on Horizon Christian at 3 p.m. Friday, and then Horizon Christian and Condon-Wheeler fight it out in a boy’s contest at 4:30 p.m.
The South Wasco County girls’ basketball squad plays Ione at 6 p.m., and Sherman caps opening night at 7:30 p.m. versus Arlington.
The first two Saturday matchups are for the third seed at state, with the girls starting at noon and the boys to follow.
The championship games are at 3 and 4:30 p.m.