Pirates stave off Crusaders to place fourth at state


SPOKANE — As the Adna Pirates exited the locker room for the final time in Spokane on Saturday, Eli Smith led the way. Braeden Salme wasn’t far behind.

Both seniors have dealt with injuries over the course of the season. Smith has missed nearly the entire season with a knee injury and Salme missed the first 13 games while recovering from a foot injury.

But as Adna coach Luke Salme watched those two lead Adna out, the 2B state fourth-place trophy in Smith’s grasp, he couldn’t think of a better representation of the 2023-24 Pirates.

“Lots of bad things happened to us earlier in the year,” coach Salme said. “Sometimes things are unfair. But you just gotta lean on one another, keep believing, keep doing the right thing, and things will work out. And they did for us. It’s so incredible.”

The Pirates wrapped up their season with a 65-64 win in the 4th/6th game over Northwest Christian (Colbert) on Saturday, a game that they controlled until the final few minutes.

“We battled,” Braeden Salme said. “That’s what we preached. We battled, we came through, and we won.”

The Pirates that stepped up in Braeden Salme’s and Smith’s absences early in the year showed up in a big way again on Saturday.

Lane Johnson scored 16 points, hauled in nine rebounds, and dished out six assists. Gavan Muller tallied six points and two rebounds. Jens Neilson added four points and four rebounds. Danner Hoinowski drew two charges in the second half.

“It’s a testament to all those other guys,” coach Salme said. “Without those guys doing what they did in the beginning of the season, this couldn’t have happened. I’m honestly more proud of this group than any group I’ve ever been involved with.”

It was freshman Trevin Salme that led the way, though, as the sharp-shooting guard shot 7 of 11 from deep and finished with a team-high 21 points.

“He can do that,” coach Salme said with a smile. “He’s always ready and willing to shoot the ball, and we believe in him. It’s a pretty big stage to do that for a freshman kid.”

Adna held a double-digit lead for most of the game, but it got dicey late. The Crusaders had the ball down three in the final 10 seconds, but a foul sent Avi West to the line. He missed both, but Asher West put back a layup instead of kicking it out, which made the score 65-64 with 2.3 seconds remaining.

Northwest Christian didn’t have a timeout they could use, so the Pirates made the heads-up play of not inbounding the ball. That allowed time to expire, and their celebration ensued.

“It’s incredible,” Braeden Salme said. “We’ve handled so much adversity. To end like this, it feels pretty great.”

Though Braeden Salme was able to return midway through the regular season, the pain in his foot lingered, and at times, it was clear he wasn’t 100 percent.

Salme kept at it, however, and by the time the district tournament rolled around, it was clear he was back to 100 percent. He helped make sure Adna got through to Spokane, and in four state tournament games, he scored 85 points.

“It was tough,” Braeden Salme said. “Battling through pain, just coming back and stepping into a leadership role. It’s what I was supposed to do. It feels good.”

The Pirates finish the season 22-8. Braeden Salme and Smith are two of five Adna seniors, along with Johnson, Neilson and Lakoda South.

It’s a group that is not only special to coach Salme, who has coached them since they were in fourth grade, but to all of Adna.

“Every kid in Adna in 11th grade and younger now knows what it takes and how you should carry yourself to get to do awesome things,” coach Salme said. “We’re gonna miss them, but we’re gonna talk about that group forever.”