By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Pirates get a meaningful win vs. No. 1 Hawks

When the Dayton and Horizon Christian boys basketball teams get together, it continues to be must-see TV.

OK, maybe the Pirates and Hawks aren’t going to be playing on a television near you anytime soon, but after Dayton upended No. 1-ranked Horizon Christian 56-55 Friday on the road, it’s clear the programs are still the top two teams in the state, and every time they play the potential for a barnburner is there.

Unlike the past few years, Dayton is a team that has looked almost mortal against 3A teams. A 30-point loss to Horizon Christian in their first meeting this season only confirmed the Pirates could be supplanted. Then came Friday and Dayton’s wild win. Justin Sutton scored 25 points, and Nathan Bernards scored 14 — including the game-winning free throw with 3.5 seconds remaining — to push Dayton past the Hawks.

“You need a win that means something,” Dayton coach Ron Hop said.

“It was a good win for the kids. Either way it would have been good because we were competing.”

Dayton trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter, but it was a far cry from where the Pirates were in the first meeting when they were never in the game. Dayton scored two baskets early in the quarter to cut the lead, and all of a sudden Hop said his players realized they were in it.

Corwin Hiatt, who finished with seven points, made two free throws with 30 seconds to go to tie the game. The back-and-forth commenced, with Horizon scoring with 20 seconds left to take a two-point lead. Senior Jered White made a crucial steal on defense and scored a layup, tying the game again with 12 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds, Dayton pressured and forced a loose ball, which White came up with.

Hop said he thought White was going to shoot the long-range jumper with five seconds left, so he called a timeout. Sure enough, White let loose. Hop said he had a moment where he thought he had cost his team the game.

“I would have been really upset if Jered had made that shot,” Hop said.

Luckily White missed, and Dayton was able to get an inbounds play set up for Bernards, who was fouled trying a layup. He missed the first shot but slipped in the second, giving the Pirates their first lead since it was 14-13 to end the first quarter.

“Beating this team,” Hop said, “it just helps our confidence.”

If you have followed the Dayton-Horizon Christian saga through the years, you will have no doubt that this is the case. Bernards has professed multiple times how much he relishes beating the Hawks. One can only imagine how much better it was this season after everything Dayton has been through. Multiple injuries — including a broken foot by senior guard Forrest Garcia — and other incidents have forced the Pirates to bond.

Dayton (16-5, 11-1) has won eight straight games, is ranked No. 4 by the OSAA RPI rankings and 3A coaches, and is tied with Horizon Christian for first in the West Valley League. According to a league source, the Hawks would still earn the first seed in the WVL league playoffs, which start next week, because of the tiebreakers it holds, but after all the ups and downs this season, the Pirates are looking pretty good to make it back to the state quarterfinals for a fourth consecutive season.

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