When Union’s basketball practice ends, Cameron Cranston and Denis Kirichenko are in no hurry to get home.
After a couple hours of drills and fundamentals, the fun isn’t over for the Titans teammates.
After all, it’s alley-oop time.
Best friends for the past three years, Cranston and Kirichenko have spent hours getting the timing right for one of basketball’s most exciting plays.
Tuesday, that work paid off in Union’s 63-54 win over Evergreen.
One minute into the second half, Cranston’s lobbed pass was caught by a leaping Kirichenko, who dunked the ball with two hands.
The play ignited the home crowd and Union fed off the energy. The Titans stretched a 34-30 halftime lead to 11, then held off the persistent Plainsmen to remain unbeaten in the 4A Greater St. Helens League as league play nears its midway point.
Cranston, a 6-foot-5 junior, led all scorers with 25 points. Kirichenko, a 6-foot-6 senior, added 12.
But none were more invigorating than that alley-oop.
“We’ve just built chemistry over the years,” said Kirichenko.
“Brother intuition,” Cranston interjected.
Highlights aside, Tuesday’s win shows that Union means business as the season reaches its get-down-to-business portion. Having played each 4A GSHL team once, the Titans are 6-0 and 11-2 overall.
Union has stayed strong despite losing six key seniors from last year’s team that placed third in the state.
“I’m pleased not just with our record, but with how we’re doing it,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “We’re sharing the ball really well. It’s a new group from last year, obviously, but they’ve come together really well. That’s because we have great leadership throughout the team.”
Evergreen also entered Tuesday’s game unbeaten in league play.
The Plainsmen (7-3, 3-1) stayed within striking distance thanks largely to 21 points from Greg Washington and 18 from Tyrus Hosley.
Hosley banked in a 3-pointer to pull Evergreen within 54-50 with four minutes to play.
But Union got a crucial 3-pointer from Tyler Combs to take a 59-52 lead with 1:30 to go.
“We expected a tough game,” Conley said. “They have a talented bunch and they play really hard. Every time we’d pull away, they’d hit some shots or get some turnovers. But our guys never got down. We always seemed to make that play to keep us five or six points ahead.”
Union can thank its defense for keeping Evergreen at arm’s length. The Plainsmen were held to 33 percent from the field, including 4 for 19 from 3-point range.
“We played all four quarters hard and we believe in each other,” Kirichenko said. “Not all of our guys play all the minutes, but they have been working in practice and that got us ready for this game.”
After a well-rounded performance like Tuesday, Union is hoping to channel some of last year’s success.
“Our core covenants is one thing we brought over from last year,” Cranston said. “Unity, intensity and humility.”
UNION 63, EVERGREEN 54
EVERGREEN — Payton Monda 6, Tyrus Hosley 18, Elon Freeman 3, Greg Washington 21, Shawn Johnson Jr. 0, Dustin Nettles 6, Jacob Patrick 0, Antoine Wilder Jr. 0. Totals 19 (4) 12-19 54.
UNION — Keithen Shepard 3, Brennan Paulson 0, Zach Reznick 0, Tyler Combs 9, Carson Brucher 0, Nico Bricker 11, Kai Gamble 3, Cameron Cranston 25, Denis Kirichenko 12. Totals 23 (5) 12-19 63.
Evergreen 18 12 9 15–54
Union 19 15 16 13–63