Basketball

Sprague beats West Salem to take first place in GVC

Sprague's Jailen Hammer drives toward the basket in a game against West Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, at Sprague High School. Sprague beat West Salem 71-65 to take first place in the Greater Valley Conference.

Sprague’s Jailen Hammer drives toward the basket in a game against West Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, at Sprague High School. Sprague beat West Salem 71-65 to take first place in the Greater Valley Conference.

The Olympians have been achingly close so many times that it’s almost unreal.

Since Sprague High School’s last league championship in boys basketball – 1997 – the Olympians have been ridiculously close to breaking that streak many times.

Now they control their own destiny.

Sprague avenged an earlier blowout loss to West Salem from January with a 71-65 upset at home Tuesday night to take over sole possession of first place in the Greater Valley Conference.

“It means a lot, not only to our team, but to the Sprague community,” said Sprague junior Teagan Quitoriano, who scored 21 points. “We haven’t had a chance to win a league title in 20 years.

“We want to be the team to do it, so I think that’s where most of the pressure is to be league champs.”

Sprague, which came into the game No. 10 in the Class 6A coaches poll, improves to 10-2 in the GVC and 14-4 overall.

West Salem, which came into the game No. 4 in the coaches poll and No. 3 in the OSAA power rankings, drops to second in the league at 9-2 and 16-4 overall.

A Sprague team that came into the game No. 9 in the OSAA’s power rankings and is close to being able to host throughout the state playoffs remains perfect at home this season with an 8-0 record.

“We play really good at home,” said senior Kaiden Flanigan, who scored 11 points. “We get our fans out and we like to play at home. I guess that’s how we’re winning.”

The Olympians learned two critical lessons the last time they played West Salem that they applied Tuesday with great success.

First off, they struggled against the 2-3 zone defense of the Titans and barely could get the ball into Quitoriano in the post the first time.

Tuesday night they used a combination of dribble drive penetration out of their zone offense to get easy baskets – including 25 points by Jailen Hammer – and a zone offense that produced easy looks for players not named Teagan Quitoriano.

Second, they defended much better and held West Salem to 27 for 49 shooting from the field, including 10 of 24 from 3-point range.

“We just keep getting better,” Sprague coach B.J. Dobrkovsky said. “Tonight, great defense, team defense. We had guys defend the basketball, made it tough for them to get by. At this point in time you got to defend.

“I thought we did even great in the fourth quarter, we just didn’t rebound and had scattered play, and they had a few 3’s down the stretch in the last three minutes where now that game’s closer than what it was.”

bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler