Make the McKenzie Connection!

March 11, 2021

By Cliff Richardson

Harrisburg. Home of the Eagles and host of a gathering of the same

 Harrisburg was the 2000-01 pre-season Trico League favorite, long coached by Russ Mason and had forged a 5-1 Trico League record. The upstart Eagles of McKenzie, coached by rookie Head Coach Mike Wiley, were the other half of the gathering, and they traveled up the Willamette Valley carrying an identical 5-1 League record. One team would gain an important early season advantage, the other, earn an education.

McKenzie took home the latter. The Eagles of Finn Rock loved to get up the court, running and gunning. Harrisburg Coach Mason, slyly, slowed the game down, reported back then by Register Guard Sports reporter Chris Hansen as “grinding, yet methodical.” Harrisburg claimed an 8-7 first quarter advantage and at halftime, Mason’s team, still led 16-13.

McKenzie addressed their hosts’ strategy in the locker-room at halftime and the Finn Rock boys stepped back on court intent and with a mission. “Step it up, make it our game.” Faster game, long range shooting (3 point type), and get out of the slow lane, that was Coach Wiley’s plan.

The McKenzie Eagles outscored Harrisburg 12-8 in the third quarter, and finally clung to a slim lead 25-24. Harrisburg responded with fervor, defending their home court with long range shooting accuracy of their own, including a altitude-busting, perfect three-point arching shot that touched nothing but net with 1:00 minute left in regulation. The shot, thrown up by local hero Josiah O’Hare, tied the game at 35-all and after the last minute of regulation time expired with no further scoring, forced an overtime game.

Inspired by a loud and boisterous home crowd, Harrisburg outscored McKenzie 16-9 in the extra quarter, took care of the advantage and handed the Finn Rock Eagles the education.

McKenzie senior David Fenley finished leading all scorers with 27 points scored and Ryan Spiro chipped in 8 points. The win set the favorites ahead of the Trico crowd at 6-1 in League play and McKenzie dropped into a second place tie with Monroe and Oakridge, all at 5-2. Three days later, McKenzie vented their frustration on the visiting Crow Cougars, winning easily, 65-34.

Senior Jared Woods led his Eagle teammates with 20 points and Fenley added 17. Fellow senior Casey Cline added 9 points. Out of the frying pan and into the fire the Eagles went. Next game up had Wiley’s Eagles travel back up the Willamette Valley to tangle with the Monroe Dragons, both teams still locked up in a second place tie in.

Six of the seven players to see action for the Dragons scored in double figures in that game and that was enough to easily dismiss the Eagles, 87-71.

Again, Fenley led his teammates with 23 points, Kyle Richardson dropped in 14, Jared Woods added 13 pts. and Casey Cline finished with 9 pts. But the damage had been done and McKenzie was in danger of dropping out of the Trico League race. Once again, it was time to hit the practice court for a round of listen and learn. But not with much time for lessons.

Tied with Oakridge and as always it seemed, on the road, McKenzie responded to their Coaches, led by none other than David Fenley. Fenley continued to chew and spit out opposing Trico League defenses, this time scoring 24 points. Oakridge’s Uni Prenevost, hero of the first meeting between the old rivals, with that improbable 4 point come-from-behind-desperation-win-the-game shot, this time, matched Fenley with 24 points of his own. However, Woods who scored 16 pts helped Fenley. freshman Devin Banks with 11 pts. and Kyle Richardson who added 9 pts. The Eagles won the contest 75-56.

Coach Wiley would respond, “They were missing their big guys so we kind of pounded them in the post...I was also really pleased with our transition game tonight.”

McKenzie would beat Central Linn next at home in the friendly confines of the Finn Rock gym, outscoring the Cobras, 69-50. Fenley led all scorers with 22 points. Jared Woods scored 14 points, hauled in 8 rebounds and had 5 steals and Kyle Richardson also had a fine balanced game with 10 pts, 9 rebounds and 6 steals.

Mapleton fell to the Eagles down on the Siuslaw, 69-55. In that game, Fenley finished with 16 pts. Casey Cline scored 15 pts. as did Kyle Richardson, and Banks added 8 pts. With the win, McKenzie had crawled back into sole possession of second place in the Trico League standings, 9-3, with Harrisburg at 10-2. Lowell beat Harrisburg 54-37 for the Eagles second loss. The Lowell Red Devils had suddenly become the hot team. And wouldn’t you know it, Wiley’s Eagles landed in downtown Lowell for their next game.

Back then the term “easy peasy” probably hadn’t even been coined yet. McKenzie had a devil of a time for three quarters of the game, and started the fourth quarter down, 49-28. But the dogfight wasn’t in the books yet. The Eagles would outscore their hot opponents 25-11 in the final quarter, and although McKenzie would lose 60-53, they did take away one consolation, the tie-breaking advantage between the two teams.

Since the Eagles defeated Lowell earlier in the season by more than 7 points, in the event of a season-ending tie, McKenzie would hold the upper advantage. Woods finished with a game-high 18 points, Casey Cline and Fenley each scored 10 pts. and Ryan Spiro added 8.

Now the Eagles had one game left on the regular season schedule, Trico League leading Harrisburg, sitting smugly at 11-2. The Eagles were tied in second with Monroe at 9-4. But the Finn Rock boys had been listening to their Coaching staff. And believing. Plus, the second gathering of Eagles was in Finn Rock.

The gymnasium, game day, was packed and buzzing. Win or lose, Harrisburg would be headed to the 2A State Championships held at Pendleton as League Champs, but McKenzie still would have to punch their ticket through the Trico League playoff format. It was time for those Finn Rock boys to stand up and bring it! Bring it they did!

Opening up with a fast and furious first quarter, McKenzie ran to a 14-9 lead. Halftime, the home Eagles were still on top, 22-16. Hotdogs and popcorn sold at a record clip during the halftime break and nobody wanted to be out of their seats for the finale.

Harrisburg opened with a small run in the third outscoring McKenzie 13-12, but was still behind 34-29 starting the final quarter. On the other side of the scorer’s table, McKenzie could smell the revenge win in the air and decisively outscored their visitors 21-12 in the fourth. McKenzie put an exclamation point on the victory by sinking 11-11 free-throws and won the contest going away, 55-41.

The win clinched second place for Wiley’s team. Fenley led all scorers with 23 points, Woods finished with 14 pts. and Casey Cline added 8. Winning makes believers and the Eagle team and the River Valley were fast becoming believers. The time had arrived to test that believing. Time for the Trico League playoffs and a run for a berth in the 2001 State playoffs at Pendleton. Time for new lessons to commence on the practice court in Finn Rock!

Time for a Mark Twain style dogfight!


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