After the Sprague High School boys basketball team held on for a 64-58 victory Friday at South Salem, Olympians senior guard Kaiden Flanigan had an interesting comment that spoke volumes about the Greater Valley Conference.
In a race that figures to go down to the wire for the league championship and playoff spots, “it seems like every team’s scary. Everyone’s losing, everyone’s winning,” Flanigan said.
Unlike last season when South Salem went 16-0 on its way to a third-place finish in the Class 6A state tournament, nobody is running away with the GVC.
West Salem (16-3, 9-2 GVC) is No. 3 in the OSAA’s power rankings, which determines seeding for the state postseason. Sprague (13-4, 9-2) is No. 10.
In a matchup that could go a long way in determining the GVC champion, West Salem will be at Sprague on Tuesday. The Titans, who are led by junior guard Kyle Greeley, rolled to a 79-55 home victory over Sprague on Jan. 10.
Both teams have five league games remaining.
“It was embarrassing getting hammered like that,” said 6-foot-7 junior forward Teagan Quitoriano, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds Friday, and leads Sprague in scoring (28 points per game) and rebounding (12 per game). “I think next time we play ‘em on Tuesday, I don’t think it’s gonna be one-sided like that.”
The Olympians suffered a 20-point loss at McNary in their next game following the defeat at West Salem, but they have been on a roll lately with six consecutive league victories.
In Friday’s closely-contested game against South Salem, a steal and layup by sophomore guard Jailen Hammer gave Sprague a 60-56 lead with 29 seconds remaining in a play that proved decisive.
“Most games it’s a battle,” said Hammer, who scored 14 points in the win. “We come out and do what we do and hope to come out on top.”
Many of South Salem’s games have come down to the wire, but after winning five league games in a row, the Saxons (9-11, 6-6) were edged in their last two games – 59-56 at West Salem and Friday against Sprague.
The top four teams in the six 6A conferences automatically qualify for the state playoffs. The top four teams in the OSAA’s power rankings not among the automatic qualifiers make the state playoffs. The next eight teams in the power rankings play in four play-in games for four state playoff spots.
South Salem is currently in fifth place in the GVC, one game behind fourth place Forest Grove, and ranked No. 23.
“We don’t get too discouraged by this loss (to Sprague) because we can still make the playoffs,” South Salem junior guard Tyler Wadleigh said. “But stuff like this definitely stings.”
South Salem, a guard-oriented team without a senior in its starting lineup Friday, has won three consecutive league titles. That streak likely will end this season, but the Saxons could be a tough out in the playoffs led by sophomore guard Jaden Nielsen-Skinner.
Wadleigh noted that he’s “never seen the GVC like this.”
“Teams that weren’t as competitive, they bring it every night,” Wadleigh said. “We get everyone’s best shot. We just wanna see the outcome go our way more often.”
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As for Sprague? Well, the pieces appear to be in place for a postseason run. Quitoriano (first team all-GVC last season) is an all-state candidate, Flanigan is a four-year starter and two-time, second-team all-GVC selection, and Hammer is a dynamic presence at both ends of the court.
BJ Dobrkovsky, in his 12th season as head coach at Sprague and a veteran of the old Valley League during his high school days at Lebanon, said Tuesday’s game against West Salem “has a lot of implications.”
“It comes down to you’ve gotta be ready to play every night,” he said.
Sprague 64, South Salem 58
Sprague: K. Flanigan 18, Quitoriano 18, Hammer 14, James 5, Long 4, VanHouten 3, Withers 2, Blea, E. Flanigan
South Salem: Nielsen-Skinner 17, Baughman 17, Wadleight 11, Brown 11, Galbraith 2, Vogt
SP 13-16-17-18 – 64
SS – 15-14-12-17 – 58
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz