Cascade's Kaiden Ford (left) meets resistance Friday from Baker defenders Grant Gambleton and Paul Hobson. (Photo by Jim Beseda)
Cascade's Kaiden Ford (left) meets resistance Friday from Baker defenders Grant Gambleton and Paul Hobson. (Photo by Jim Beseda)

FOREST GROVE — The Baker Bulldogs spoiled any hopes the top-ranked and two-time defending champion Cascade Cougars had for a three-peat Friday afternoon.

And it wasn’t even close.

Riding Paul Hobson’s hot hand and a stifling full-court pressure defense, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs overwhelmed the Cougars 74-54 in the semifinals of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 4A boys basketball championships at Forest Grove High School,

Hobson scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half as Baker raced out to a 51-32 halftime lead and never looked back, setting up a showdown with second-ranked Junction City in Saturday’s 5:45 p.m. championship final.

“What a blessing,” Baker coach Jebron Jones said. “We don’t take this for granted. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point and I hope the boys are ready to play tomorrow. We have to play harder than we did today and, hopefully, we can put the ball in the hoop a little bit more than the other team.”

This is the fourth trip to the final for the Bulldogs (27-1) and their first since they won it all in 2007.

“Oh, my gosh,” Hobson said. “This has been 10 years in the making, going back to most of us playing AAU ball together. This means the world to me. I know we’re going to finish it tomorrow.”

The Bulldogs played perhaps the best half of basketball they have played all season in the first half Friday. They shot a blistering 69.2 percent (18 of 26) from the field and nobody was hotter than Hobson, the 6-foot-3 senior guard, who did all of his damage from three-point range, going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.

“I’ve had a couple of other games like that,” Hobson said. “I’ve just got to thank my teammates for getting me the ball. Without them, I couldn’t get those open looks.”

Hobson had plenty of help in the first two quarters. Isaiah Jones had 15 first-half points on 5-for-5 shooting and Jaron Long went to the break with 10 points and six rebounds.

“What made it more special was the stage that these guys were on — the semifinals of the state tournament,” Jebron Jone said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that we practice in the morning and then a lot of these kids come back to the gym and shoot around by themselves when nobody’s around.

“I tell them all the time, ‘If you want to shine it the light, you have to work in the dark.’ Tonight, they had a chance to shine in the light because of their work in the dark and Paul Hobson in the first half is a great example of that hard work paying off.”

At the other end, Cascade struggled to move the ball and create quality scoring chances. The Cougars scored 32 first-half points and shot 45.8 percent from the field, which typically would be good enough to keep them in most games heading into the second half, but not Friday.

“Everything Baker wanted to do today, they were able to do,” Cascade coach Justin Amaya said. “We tried man-to-man defense and they were getting slips and back-doors. We tried zone and they were hitting threes. They were just a full step and a half better than us today.”

Cascade twice cut the deficit to 14 points in the third quarter and then finally cut it to 13 points in the fourth quarter when Landon Knox drained a three-pointer with 2:28 remaining.

Baker answered Knox’s long-range shot with its own three from … guess who? Yes, Hobson, who finished the game going 8-for-13 from the field with all 13 shots coming from beyond the arc.

“That was a tough one,” said Knox, who led Cascade with 20 points. “Baker is a great team and they played a great game. We didn’t play our best game and I thought they played an almost perfect game, so that’s a hard pill to swallow.

“But congratulations to them. Hopefully, they go win it all.”

Amaya seconded that motion.

“Even going into the game, we talked about if there was any team we’d want to lose to, it’s Baker,” Amaya said. “We have so much respect for them. You saw after the game, both teams were hugging each other. 

“So, we’re excited to see Baker play Saturday night. Would we like that to be us? Yes, but we knew at some point the string of championship of appearances would end and our goal is to respond tomorrow and take third place.”

In Friday’s other games:

No. 2 Junction City 57, No. 6 Marist Catholic 39

Avery Thomas scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and keyed a pivotal third-quarter run that helped lift the Tigers past the Spartans and into Saturday’s championship final against Baker.

Junction City’s Keivon Riley finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists, and Cooper Rothenberger chipped 10 points as the Tigers advanced to the finals for the second time in three seasons.

“We just really wanted it,” Riley said. “It’s crazy. A lot of people didn’t think we’d do it, and now we have a chance to prove them wrong. That’s what I’m thinking.”

The Tigers have reached the final three other times, winning a 3A title in 1994 when there were only four classifications.

“Hey, there have been people who doubted us all year,” Junction City coach Bart Rothenberger said. “I think the four best teams played this afternoon and we’ve got a heckuva challenge tomorrow.

“There’s nobody in that guy who thinks we can play with Baker City after watching these last two games. So, heck, what do we have to lose?”

One of the deciding factors in Friday's semifinal was a physical Junction City defense that limited Marist Catholic to 31 total field goal attempts -- 17 fewer shots than the Tigers took. Junction City also enjoyed a 22-14 advantage in turnovers and a 28-20 edge in rebounds — more numbers that were tipped in the Tigers' favor because of their defense.

“We really stymied Marist with how well we played man defense and how aggressive we were defensively,” Bart Rothenberger said. “Both teams are really good defensively. We just got some breaks there in the third quarter where we started to extend the lead.

“And it wasn’t due to our shooting. It was due to our defense.”

Junction City broke the open at the start of the second half as Thomas, the 6-3 senior wing, scored 12 points during a 20-4 run that turned a three-point halftime lead into a 43-24 advantage with 1:40 to play in the third quarter.

Still time for a comeback? Yes, but the Spartans didn’t have it in them against the Sky Em League rivals.

“It’s pretty obvious that Junction City’s physicality took us out of what we wanted to do,” Marist Catholic coach Bart Pollard said. “They took away our perimeter shooting and didn’t allow us open looks. 

“They really knocked us off of our driving lines. It’s hard to respond to that when you get held and you get knocked around. If those calls don’t come, what are you going to do?”

Kai Holmes led Marist Catholic with 13 points, and Kaden Erlenbush and Christian Guerrero added 10 points each. Erlenbush also led the Spartans with five rebounds.

“We were just playing from behind the whole game,” Pollard said. “I thought our kids kept competing hard, Unfortunately, you look out there and those guys are that big and strong, if they’re allowed to do the things they did, I’m not sure that we have a lot of answers for that.”

Marist Catholic (17-8) will take on top-ranked Cascade (21-5) in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. third-place game.

No. 8 Madras 47, No. 5 Philomath 41

Seneca Ball knocked down two free throws with 1:49 remaining, touching off a 7-0 run that lifted the White Buffaloes over the Warriors in Friday’s 9 a.m. consolation semifinal.

Ball, the 6-1 senior guard, finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-for-18 shooting from the field with three three-pointers as the White Buffaloes 19-6) advanced to Saturday’s 9 a.m. fourth-place game against Crook County.

Madras used 11 points off turnovers to fuel a 20-8 run to open the game, only to see Philomath rally back to within a point, 23-22, at halftime.

In the second half, the lead changed hands four times before Philomath’s Jacob Peters converted a three-point play to give the Warriors a 41-40 lead with 2:20 to play.

From that point on, Ball did all the scoring. After his free throws gave the White Buffaloes the lead, he sealed the win on a lay-up with 1:17 to play and a three-pointer with 17 seconds left .

Skytus Smith finished with nine points, four rebounds, and four assists for Madras, and Maikel Poland added five points, six rebounds and four assists.

Peters scored nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds for the Warriors (19-8), who got another seven point from Kaden Muir along with five points and six rebounds from Connor Harms. Leading scorer Preston Kramer injured his right elbow in the first quarter and finished with two points, one rebound, and an assist in only four minutes.

No. 14 Crook County 63, No. 7 Henley 56

The Cowboys of Prineville closed on an 11-2 run to knock off the Hornets of Klamath Falls and land a spot in Saturday’s consolation semifinals against Madras.

Trailing 54-52, Crook County’s Jace Jonas hit a pair of free throws that tied the scored with 3:25 to play.

Jonas struck again two possessions later, driving the right baseline for a layup that made it 56-54, followed by another layup off a Henley turnover that pushed the lead to 58-54 with 1:25 left.

Bryce Lowenbach closed out the scoring for Crook County with a three-pointer from the top of the arc with a minute to play and two free throws with 27.6 seconds left.

Lowenbach finished with a game-high 20 points to lead three Crook County players in double figures. Jonas had 16 points, and Logan Mathews added 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists for the Cowboys.

Henley’s Luke Bennett scored 18 points with six rebounds, and Markus McCreadie had 16 points and six rebounds. The Hornets got another eight points and five assists from Aiden Hayes, along with six points and a team-high nine rebounds from Owen Harper.