By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Pirates-Hawks meet for first time in 2013

The Dayton Pirates boys basketball team seems to be heating up this January. Just in time to play No. 1-ranked and seasonal rival Horizon Christian.

This from Dayton coach Ron Hop, who rarely sugar coats his words:

“If we don’t play well,” he said, “well get our butts kicked.”

There has always been a grudging respect between the Pirates and Hawks. They have played each other in the last three 3A state championship games, after all.

Leading up to Monday's 7:30 p.m. game in Dayton, the Pirates (8-4) have won two straight, blowing out Willamina and Gervais on the road. Dayton scored 92 points vs. Willamina and 80 vs. Gervais after scoring in 30s in two of three games at the Southern Oregon Subaru Christmas Classic over winter break.

The game was originally scheduled to be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday, but icy conditions in the morning forced the Dayton School District to cancel school. Policy is when the district doesn't have school, all athletic events are cancelled as well. Dayton Athletic Director Todd Shirley said the games would take place at their regular times Monday.

Have the Pirates, a month removed now from winning the state championship in football, finally gotten their basketball legs under them? Senior guard Nathan Bernards said he thinks so, and he proved it Monday and Wednesday by dropping 41 points vs. Willamina then 20 vs. the Cougars.

Bernards, who started last season for Dayton’s state title basketball team, never had to be the leading player with standouts like A.J. Hedgecock, Hayden Craig and Maika Ostling playing, but this year he has taken on a star role. He’s had to, with guard Forrest Garcia out. Garcia, Hop said, broke his right foot Dec. 18 vs. Sheridan and is expected to be out another four to six weeks.

Freshman Zach Spink blew out his shoulder a week ago and is out an undetermined amount of time, and Corwin Hiatt has also been sidelined this season.

Hop has been playing a lot of freshman this season, something he admitted he really didn’t want to do. He likes giving them experience at the junior varsity level before throwing them to the wolves in varsity play, but he hasn’t had a choice. Hop is down to two healthy players on his varsity roster that played on last year’s state championship team: Bernards and Justin Sutton.

Dayton’s season to date has been up and down. The Pirates have four losses to ranked teams, but they are still showing that the talent is there to make a return trip to the state playoffs. It’s just that this year, there’s not the inevitable certainty that it will be the Pirates and Hawks playing again for the state title like there has been in years past.

Tonight’s game vs. Horizon Christian should go a long way in giving Dayton fans an idea of what to expect for the remainder of the regular season. The Pirates’ 22-game West Valley League winning streak is on the line, as is their four-game winning streak vs. the Hawks. Dayton last lost to Horizon Christian in the 2011 state championship game.

The history between Dayton and Horizon Christian has been well documented. Hop said the Hawks are again the most talented team in the state, even without their best athlete — Wyatt Houston, who tore his left labrum during football season.

A lot of things have stacked up against Dayton, but a loss tonight won’t rule the Pirates out of the postseason. In fact, playing the No. 1-ranked team in the state will probably help Dayton’s RPI ranking, which is currently at 12. There are still enough games to get Dayton back into the top eight, but with Westside Christian (No. 3) and Amity (9-5) lurking, it’s not guaranteed the Pirates will make it back to Coos Bay.

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