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After a year of online school, virtual graduations, postponed — or canceled — athletic contests, tournaments and seasons, and a world of uncertainty, the Canby faithful enjoyed a return to semi-normality Friday night with a long-anticipated comeback: the 11th annual Pack the Gym Night.
Students crowded the stands, cheering their hearts out and hoping to see their Cougars take down the vaunted Lake Oswego Lakers (11-11, 6-3 Three Rivers League).
They would not go home disappointed.
Thanks to a career night from senior Alex Evans, the Canby Cougars boys basketball team came back from what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit — down four points with seven seconds left — to defeat the Lakers in one of the wildest finishes in Canby history.
While his late-game heroics will be talked about for years to come, Evans also started hot for the Cougars (12-8, 3-4 TRL), piling up 10 points in the first four minutes and 13 in the first quarter. A pull-up triple sent the crowd into a frenzy as the Cougars took a 17-12 lead into the second frame.
Senior wing Payton Meyers picked up his second foul early on, and Canby was forced to play the entire second quarter without their leading scorer. In his place, coach Craig Evans turned to Matt Soles, who made the most of his minutes, scoring four points and helping build a 32-24 halftime Cougars lead.
Soles’ first-half play caught the attention and admiration of his point guard.
“Matt did a great job with his role,” Evans told the Current after the game. “He knew exactly what to do out there.”
Through the first half, Canby kept the Lakers offense — led by star power forward Winters Grady, a 6-6 freshman — at bay. But in the second half, things would get interesting.
Lake Oswego exploded out of the halftime break, beginning the third on a 12-4 run to tie things up. Grady alone had 11 points in the third as the Lakers took a one-point lead into the final quarter.
The game would have been intense and competitive even without the added pressure of Pack the Gym. But with the stands crammed full of 600 students, all wearing their complimentary T-shirts, every shot meant exponentially more.
So when Kellan Oakes hit two tough pull-ups, or Mikey Gibson nailed a put-back lay-in, the entire gym seemed to shake and pulse with energy.
It would be a fourth quarter for the ages. Grady was held scoreless in the period thanks to a strong defensive effort by Gibson, but hot hands for both sides would have no trouble scoring the rock.
Meyers hit two clutch shots on Canby’s end, while the Lakers collected buckets of their own from Carson Reno and Christian Rowell. Neither team trailed by more than four as they traded the lead three times and the crowd roared.
The would-be knock-out punch came with time running out and the Cougars trailing 57-59. Oakes drove past the defense and put up an eight-foot shot that bounced just wide and into the hands of Lake Oswego.
After a Cougar foul, Sorena Torabi sank both free throws to make it a two-possession game. Lake Oswego led 61-57 with just seven seconds left.
The game should have been as good as over. But it was Pack the Gym Night, and anything could happen.
After a Canby timeout, Evans raced down the court and fired a jittery 3 that touched every inch of the rim before falling. Sixty-one to sixty, Lake O.
Canby intentionally fouled to get possession back, which looked promising after Torabi missed the free throw. The Cougs rebounded and called timeout. The only problem?
Canby was still behind, and a mere 1.3 seconds remained on the clock.
Surely, the Cougars would need a half-court game-winner of some sort.
Cougar Country on Twitter: “THEY FOULED HIM ON THE HALF COURT SHOT WHAT!!!!! pic.twitter.com/m3bf1JhDGT / Twitter”
THEY FOULED HIM ON THE HALF COURT SHOT WHAT!!!!! pic.twitter.com/m3bf1JhDGT
Unbelievably, Evans drew the foul on his desperate half-court heave. The senior wasn’t even looking at the hoop when he flailed the ball, earning three crucial free throws and a chance for the most unlikely victory.
“I had confidence going up there,” Evans said. But when his first attempt rattled out, even he needed a moment to collect himself. “I wanted the crowd to feel the suspense,” he later joked.
The tension was as thick as February fog and every Cougar fan in attendance seemed to hold their breath as Evans cooly stepped back to the charity stripe and nailed the next two shots in quick succession.
Cougar Country on Twitter: “The final three throws of the night for Alex Evans #opreps #CanbyProud #PackTheGym pic.twitter.com/JB0987BAae / Twitter”
The final three throws of the night for Alex Evans #opreps #CanbyProud #PackTheGym pic.twitter.com/JB0987BAae
In his best Reggie Miller impersonation, Evans had scored five points in four seconds to seal the improbable comeback and complete Canby’s sweep of the visiting Lakers.
Evans finished with 24 points (including six treys), five rebounds, three assists — and those two indispensable free throws. Oakes chipped in 10, while Meyers battled early foul trouble en route to nine points on the night. Grady led the Lakers with 17 in the losing effort, while Reno finished with 12 points.
After dropping a narrow game to No. 1 Tualatin (16-2, 6-1 TRL) a few days earlier, as well as a heartbreaking two-point loss to Tigard the week prior, coach Evans and his squad finally had things break their way to earn their first signature win of the season.
“[The team] is playing really well right now,” Evans said. “It was nice to be on the other end this time so they could have success and have that feeling.”
In preparation for their games next week against Lakeridge and West Linn, the Canby head coach knows that there’s still more that can be done.
“We have a lot of work to do though,” he added. “The Three Rivers League is no joke. Everyone’s playing good right now. That’s why all the scores are close.”
Following that quote, I thanked the coach for his time, and we headed out to the parking lot, adrenaline still pumping from the ridiculous finish to the night’s festivities. I think we were both thinking the same thing.
After all these high-schoolers have been through — through the pandemic, lockdowns, online learning, and everything else — they were able to have one night back out there, just enjoying life as their team pull off an unprecedented comeback.
And those kids deserve that.
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