Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Willamina’s AJ Farmer scores two points against a Taft defender. He led the Bulldogs’ rally.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Willamina’s AJ Farmer scores two points against a Taft defender. He led the Bulldogs’ rally.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Willamina s Nick Colton drives to the basket as he looks for an open man to pass to.
Marcus Larson/News-Register Willamina's Nick Colton drives to the basket as he looks for an open man to pass to.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Willamina s Brad Milton  is fouled on his way to the hoop, scoring a two point lay-in.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Willamina's Brad Milton is fouled on his way to the hoop, scoring a two point lay-in.
By Logan Brandon • Sports Editor • 

AJ Farmer leads Bulldog rally, overcome Taft, 46-45


WILLAMINA – Following a brutal three-game losing streak, the Willamina boys’ basketball team steadied its resolve to capture a nail-biting, comeback 46-45 win over Taft Friday. The Bulldogs were powered to victory by AJ Farmer’s clutch performance and a 15-2 run across the third and fourth periods.

With their 13th win, the result signifies the first victorious season for the ‘Dogs in nine years and solidifies their hold on fourth place, meaning they would host a league playoff game if standings remain unchanged after the final two contests.

Asked about the bounce back, Willamina head coach Cliff Toney said, “This was huge for us. We weren’t really hanging our heads (after the three-game skid), but it was the first time we lost more than two games in a row all season. I think a little doubt can start to creep into their heads about the previous seasons.

“After the Horizon game (70-49 loss, Jan. 30), I asked some questions of them, gut-checked them a bit. We’ve been spending time in practice focusing on hustle and rebounding; trying to get back some energy. I knew if we came with good energy tonight, we could get Taft. My kids battled tonight, we shifted the momentum and showed we have the ability to get the win,” added Toney.

In the suspenseful contest, Farmer was crowned hero when the senior guard nailed two free throws with 26 seconds left to provide the final margin of victory. His moment of glory was prefaced by a four-minute stretch in which the home team erased a 10-point deficit and initiated an anxiety-ridden final six minutes.

Brad Milton, the junior guard, was a major catalyst in the 15-2 blitz which flipped the script of the game’s narrative. Speaking about his team’s commitment to clawing back, Milton noted, “When we were down by 10, Cliff called timeout. We regrouped, got fired up again, and we regained our confidence during that run.”

In the first, Willamina found difficulty containing Taft’s lightning-quick guard, Chance Haun. He tallied eight of the Tigers’ 12 first-quarter points to leash the ‘Dogs.

Fortunately for the home side, AJ Farmer brought his A-game as well. His jump pass to Haven Collins in the paint produced an early 5-4 lead for the orange-and-black. After a Taft score, Farmer swished a corner trey to retaliate. Late in the period, Farmer, sprung by Chance Kalawa’s excellent high pick, drilled a straightaway three to hand Willamina the 13-12 lead.

During the second stanza, the teams traded blows. Taft would steal the lead, Willamina would snatch it right back. Not until four minutes remained did separation occur. Farmer pump faked his defender out of his shoes, and then slung a pass to Nick Colton when the defense rotated. Colton’s corner three-pointer earned his team a four-point lead at 20-16.

Taft slugged back by venturing on a 9-4 run to close the period, and the visitors led at the half, 25-24.

The Tigers’ appeared to seize control in the third period. Over the first six minutes, they outscored the home team, 9-2, and led 36-26. Willamina couldn’t locate its offensive mojo when every loose ball favored Taft.

Desperately desiring a win, the Bulldogs battled in the final 2:26. Farmer’s split pair of free throws were followed by Milton scoring five consecutive markers.

“Coaches were looking for a little spark coming off Taft’s run. I took on a leadership role, put the guys on my back a little, made sure it was within the offense and got some nice three-point plays,” said Milton.

With the Tigers on their haunches, Tanner Onstot smoothly knocked down an elbow jumper to narrow the deficit to 36-34 after three quarters of play.

The fourth transformed into a true fight, the final punch courtesy of Farmer’s success at the charity stripe. But before his ultimate trick, he dazzled the fans with an array of skills. With 6:02 remaining, he stepped into a straightaway three, and after seeing the attempt sail true, was fouled on his landing. Calmly stepping to the line, Farmer made his foul shot to complete the four-point play.

Farmer’s wizardry was coupled with the best defensive showing of the night. The Bulldogs’ locked down the Tigers in the final moments as Colton and Abel Vanecek hounded Taft’s best player, Christian Chase.

Chase’s lone success of the quarter was major: a corner trey to put his team up 43-41 with 2:20 left. Milton, willing his team to victory, answered with a long-distance snipe to recapture the advantage. Twelve seconds later, the road team found another bucket to go up 45-44. They would hold that edge until 26 seconds showed on the clock and Farmer drove with purpose into the teeth of the Tigers’ defense, achieving the decisive foul shots.

His success at the line was followed by another outstanding defensive stand, and Onstot collected the defensive rebound with 2.6 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs’ big man clanged his free throw off the front iron, but Taft’s Everett Thomas’ three-quarter court prayer remained unanswered and Willamina escaped with a much-needed home victory.

Farmer led the ‘Dogs with 15 points, four assists and three rebounds. Milton contributed 11 points and five rebounds.

Reflecting on the crucial victory, Milton was asked to describe his Bulldog teammates. He punctuated his interview with three words: “Tough. Resilient. Family.”

Willamina’s (13-9, 6-6 WVL) resolve will be tested again tonight with a stiff road contest against Dayton. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.


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