March 8, 2022 — A group of Florence middle schoolers, nine from eighth grade and one seventh, traveled down the coast to California to appear as the lone Oregon representative in the AA Bracket of the 53rd Annual Crescent City Jaycees Middle School Basketball Tournament.
The event included 40 teams from all over the western United States grouped into five different brackets based on their school’s performance during the regular season. Siuslaw’s bracket, AA, was considered the second most difficult. Its games were contested in the gym at Smith River Elementary School in the somewhat remote northern California community Smith River.
After traveling three and a half hours down Highway 101, the Vikings arrived just in time for the 6 p.m. tip off of their first game which was versus River Oak, a team from Ukiah, Calif.
River Oak made an even longer journey to play the game than did Siuslaw, traveling almost five hours, but one wouldn’t know it from their play in the first quarter.
Siuslaw’s opponent came out hot and took an early 17-11 lead after the first frame.
River Oak — led by a smooth finishing wing named Zach Martinez, who finished the game with 16 points — kept up a constant attack and built a 22-point lead going into the fourth quarter, 47-25.
The Vikings came alive in the last period and staged a frantic comeback attempt, led by point guard Micah Blankenship, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth.
They closed within 10, but time eventually ran out of the team from Oregon and they lost 58-44.
Leading scorers for the Viks were Will Johnson, with 15, and Jordan Pitcher, with 12.
Though disappointed to start the tournament with a loss, the Siuslaw team members knew what they needed to work on, and were excited to right the wrongs from the opening game.
“We started the tournament slow and had to learn on the fly,” Micah said. “Turnovers, bad decisions and fouls kept us out of the first game.”
With the loss, Siuslaw moved into the consolation side of the bracket. Win their final two games and the Viks would claim the AA Bracket’s Consolation Championship and fifth place in their group.
Day 2 of the tournament opened for Siuslaw with an early 9 a.m. game versus Winship, a team from Eureka, Calif. Winship, also called the Vikings, brought a team of cheerleaders, which created a festive atmosphere for the breakfast-time battle.
Winship’s roster featured players that were smaller than Siuslaw’s, but also quick. This created an exciting match-up between two athletic squads.
The game went back and forth. Winship led by two after one quarter and by three at the half. Siuslaw claimed the lead by two going into the fourth 32-30.
Led in the final quarter by Jordan, who scored six of his team-leading 17 in the fourth, Siuslaw managed to gradually take control of the game when it mattered most.
Much to Siuslaw Coach Aaron Pitcher’s chagrin, the team played at a frantic, sometimes out of control, pace for most of the tournament up until that point.
Things changed in the fourth quarter versus Winship as Siuslaw found just the right calm and controlled pace. They outscored Winship 15-8 and won the game 47-38.
Siuslaw overcame a hostile crowd that grew gradually louder, prompted by the previously mentioned cheerleading squad.
“We went into these games with the crowd being against us and we ignored them and just played great as a team,” said guard Eddie OSorio.
OSorio, one of the team's best slashing guards, excelled on the defensive end during the tournament as he harassed opponents as an important part of the team’s “Okie” full court press.
Starting center Jacob Mann had an exceptional second game of the tournament, scoring nine hard-fought points battling under the basket for Siuslaw. From the center position also came great play from Collin Barnett, who scored clutch buckets in the fourth quarter of all three of the Viking’s games over the weekend, and Owen Burtt, whose pinpoint passing from the high post led to a handful of scores for his Siuslaw teammates he managed to hit, in-stride, cutting to the basket.
The win sent Siuslaw to the AA Bracket Consolation Championship Game versus the Middletown Broncos. The winner would earn the fifth-place trophy in the tournament.
As was the case all weekend, the Vikings started out slow, only scoring five points in the first quarter versus the Broncos.
Getting some solid playing time in the first quarter of the third game was Alan Untz, the lone seventh grader on the team. Based on his exceptional play for his grade’s team during the regular season, Untz was asked to join this group of older players for the weekend tournament. Though his playing time was limited, the experience will be valuable for his hoops career moving forward.
“I felt a little nervous but overall, it was fun watching good basketball,” said Untz. “I learned some stuff that will help me improve next season.”
Siuslaw seemed to come alive in the second quarter of their final game. Their full court press finally started clicking. Every player appeared ready to aggressively attack on the defensive end.
Every time athletic wing Asher Borgnino checked in, his teammates could rest assured, he was going to get a deflection or somehow disrupt the flow of Middletown’s offense.
The Vikings were provided a huge spark, when, in the second quarter, first-year basketball player Bryce Franzoni sprinted the length of the floor, beat his driving opponent to a spot under the basket, braced himself in position and took a hard charge from Bronco guard Trenton Griffin. The referee signaled an offensive foul and Franzoni’s teammates and the Siuslaw crowd erupted. The Broncos’ fate may have been decided at that moment.
With momentum on their side, Siuslaw slowly and methodically built its lead for the rest of the game. Final score was 37-27 Siuslaw.
The team from Oregon would go home consolation champions.
Leading scorer in the last game of the weekend was Jordan, with 11 points. Johnson was next with nine, then Micah, who had seven.
This tournament was not a school sanctioned event and couldn’t have happened without the coaching and coordination of some dedicated community members.
Aaron was the coach of the team and was assisted by John Pitcher and Andy Johnson. Parent Mike Blankenship was also instrumental in getting the team to this tournament in California.
All the players were grateful for this chance to play a few more games.
“This was a great opportunity, and we all want to say thanks to all the people and coaches who made this happen,” Micah said.