Nyssa junior guard Pedro Chavez attempts to drive the ball to the basket as Rainier’s defense try to block him. The Bulldogs defeated the Columbians 66-61 in a loser-out playoff game last Friday night at Nyssa High School. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

NYSSA – For Nyssa boys basketball coach Aaron Mills the solution to a problem, any problem, is will power.

His approach: You have the self-discipline to prepare and prepare and prepare, and if that’s not enough, you beat the darn thing over the head until it’s straightened out. 

That’s why he pushes his players hard, and that’s why his Bulldogs were 9-1 in league and headed for the OSAA tournament following a 66-61 win against Rainier in the first round of 3A playoffs last Friday at the Nyssa High School gym.

From its first pulse-quickening moments, Friday’s basketball showdown seemed destined to produce a harrowing finish, as the match kicked off close.

“We battled all night. Rainier won state football championship, so those boys know how to win. We knew that they were gonna come at us hard. They’re really athletic,” said Mills. “I thought we did a really good job of disrupting them offensively and knocking the ball loose, but they’re so darn athletic they kept getting it back. 

“And we’re used to knocking it loose and grabbing it and getting layups. So they didn’t give us anything easy.”

Nyssa’s Pedro Chavez got the pivotal baskets, Agustin Trujillo led the Bulldogs with 23 points, including shots from the 3-point line, as Omar Jaquez scored 18.

Even though the Bulldogs controlled the backboards in the second and third quarters, the Columbians scrambled back on defense. 

“I thought both teams played really well, we fought hard. It just came down to them making a few more shots at the end,” said Rainier coach Logan Nelson. Before the game, Nelson was concerned about overcoming the Bulldogs’ home court advantage. He said the biggest challenge was combatting the noise and emotion and adrenaline flooding the premises.

“Players feed off the crowd,” said Nelson. “That was our main focus, trying to limit as many hyped up possessions as we can.”

As a concept, however, the home court advantage dies hard, and for that reason it was a vintage game for undue optimism and unwarranted despair.

Nyssa’s Wyatt Jensen was guilty of the former when he said that his team watched their opponents on film. 

“I wasn’t too nervous. We knew what was coming, and we prepared for them,” Jensen said.

Nyssa’s guards managed to trap Rainier’s back court so effectively that the Columbians weren’t able to run. 

“Defensively, they got after us a bit. They anticipated some of our passing lanes, and they got some easy steals,” said Nelson. “So hat’s off to them. They’re a good team, they fought hard.”

The third period was a defensive clinic by the Bulldogs, pressing and double-teaming the ball, clogging the middle and controlling the board. 

However, the Columbians managed to get past those roadblocks by the fourth quarter, as they slashed Nyssa’s comfortable 10-point lead to just one point in the last three minutes of the game.

Rainier’s uprising in the fourth quarter may have rattled the Bulldogs’ defense. As the Columbians clawed and clobbered their way back, Mills said his Bulldogs got a little “too excited” and lost focus. 

“They needed to settle down a little bit and get back to what got us here,” Mills said.

If the Bulldogs were going to buckle under the pressure of a playoff series against the defending state champions in football, it seemed it would have happened in the last three minutes of this game. 

“I thought we did a good job in the fourth quarter silencing the crowds, rolling our way back to the game, making some effort plays,” said Nelson.

But the Bulldogs didn’t crumble; it was the Columbians who fumbled away one opportunity after another.

Nyssa’s Omar Jaquez was the most sanguine Bulldog regarding his team’s ability or to bear down for every game. 

“We did make a few mistakes, but we got over it and just kept playing hard,” he said, “Everyone got pretty lit up, mad and, at the same time, probably nervous, but we kept our composure and played even harder.”

The Bulldogs found that they could pinch Rainier’s players against the sidelines and disrupt Rainier’s patterns. Even as Rainier drew within three points, the Columbians took consecutive horrible shots. 

With less than five seconds left, Chavez’ free throws put the Columbians away 66-61. 

Now, the Bulldogs match up against Pleasant Hill in the quarterfinals on Thursday play scheduled in Coos Bay.

Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected]