By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PILOT ROCK — When the tournament smoke cleared in Pilot Rock, it wasn’t the regular-season titan Weston-McEwen standing above the rest, but the streaking Heppner Mustangs.

The Mustangs (18-11, 9-5 BMC) beat the two top teams in the Blue Mountain Conference District Tournament on Saturday to seize the top seed from the conference heading into the state tournament. Heppner took down Elgin (20-9, 12-2 BMC) in the first game of the day (25-18, 25-15, 26-24) to advance to the championship match where they did the same to the TigerScots (23-7, 13-1 BMC).

Heppner — winners of seven straight matches while moving from district-tournament bubble team to state tournament contender — dethroned the winners of last year’s tournament in four sets 25-21, 18-25, 31-29 and 25-20.

“The last few weeks have been very stressful, trying to prepare for this exact day,” said Carrie Haguewood, Heppner’s senior middle blocker who had 16 kills in the championship match. “We really knew we could get into the playoffs. We just had to believe it.

“Now we know how we can play and we just have to keep playing like that because we’re winning like that.”
 
 
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W-M back Elliot Salter runs by a defender. (Photo by Joe Tierney)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Kenzie Hansell stood at midfield after the game with Dallas Reich. Hansell was beaming as he lifted his arm around the quarterback’s shoulders — a lengthy reach over the pads of the 6-foot-3 player.

They posed as several fans and parents took photos.

“These are our real smiles,” Hansell told a photo snapper.

There was plenty to smile about for the Weston-McEwen TigerScots (8-0, 5-0 BMC) on Friday night as they took down the perennial Blue Mountain Conference titan Heppner 38-8 behind a pounding defense that created four take aways. The TigerScots’ victory — their first over Heppner since most of its team was in grade school — guarantees them at least a share of the conference title when coupled with an Enterprise loss at Stanfield.

 
 
Hermiston soccer
Bulldog Orlando Guzman (white) dribbles the ball. (Photo by AJ Mazzolini)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

A win would have guaranteed at least a share of the Columbia River Conference championship, but on Thursday Rich Harshberger’s Hermiston Bulldogs had to settle for a tie and another week of waiting. A 2-2 draw with conference co-leaders Hood River Valley mean the Bulldogs’ next chance to clinch will come on Tuesday against Pendleton.

Hermiston (7-2-2, 3-0-2 CRC) continues to control its destiny as a win next week would leave them  no worse than a tie for first, dependant on the Eagles’ own outcome against The Dalles Wahtonka.

The Bulldogs had their chances to turn the tie into a victory. They led 2-1 with less than 15 minutes to play before allowing the tying goal.

“It would have been better if it stayed 2-1, but I can’t complain too much,” Harshberger said. A tie was amenable, he added. A loss was not.

 
 
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Heppner's Kelly Wilson sets a ball. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PILOT ROCK — The final pieces of the Blue Mountain Conference District Tournament fell into place Thursday night when the Heppner Mustangs beat the Union Bobcats in four sets. By winning the play-in game, the Mustangs (16-11, 9-5 BMC) will take the No. 3 seed into the tournament’s semifinal game to face No. 2 Elgin (22-7, 12-2 BMC) at noon on Saturday in Pilot Rock.

The Bobcats (19-12, 9-5 BMC) — now the fourth seed — will face the fifth-seeded Stanfield Tigers (11-14, 5-9 BMC) following that game.

For Heppner, the postseason feelings started a week ago. They faced Union last Saturday knowing they needed a win and to keep winning to even force the one-game playoff with the Bobcats on Thursday. They’ve now won five straight matches heading into the district tournament.

“We’d technically in our minds already started the playoffs,” said Pam Dowdy, Heppner’s head coach. “It really gives you strength and confidence to play like that, on the edge.”

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — An addition to the schedule means the Hermiston Bulldogs’ regular season won’t end with a loss to Pendleton last Friday, but rather on their home Kennison Field against a team from Yakima, Wash. Hermiston (5-3, 2-1 CRC) will square off with the Davis Pirates Friday at 7 p.m. in a game that wasn’t cemented on either teams’ schedule until just a few weeks ago.

But the contest didn’t appear out of thin air, said Mike Kay, athletic director for Hermiston. The game was two years in the making.

“It was always one that we’d scheduled,” Kay said. “It’s actually a continuation of an agreement that we made last year, two games with Davis.”

The first game in Yakima never happened because of a stack of injuries for the Bulldogs toward the end of the 2010 season. Hermiston and Davis cancelled their non-conference varsity matchup to avoid further injuries. The junior varsity clubs still competed, Kay said.
 
 
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Kalie Wright returns a volleyagainst Yakima Valley. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PENDLETON — Winners can make the mistakes of  losers but sometimes still sneak out a victory.

That was head coach Dave Baty’s diagnosis after his Blue Mountain Timberwolves (25-10, 9-2 NWAACC) narrowly edged the visiting team from Yakima Valley (19-9, 6-5 NWAACC) in five sets Wednesday. Scores were 25-21, 25-23, 18-25, 20-25 and 15-10, but the losing Yakima Valley amassed more total points, digs and successful serves, and hit for a better percentage.

“There was really no point in (Wednesday’s) match where we were playing expected volleyball,” Baty said. “I don’t have the numbers for our unforced errors but we have got to have had a bucket full.

“We played cleaner in the final game than they did,” he added. “That’s the reason we won, we played cleaner. And it’s the first game we played cleaner all night.”

The Timberwolves had 31 errors compared to 52 kills overall.

 
 
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Bulldog Crystal Schmidt (5) with a kill. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — The Pendleton Buckaroos surged to a  third and fourth set win on Tuesday but couldn’t overcome the hole they dug for themselves. Hermiston knocked the Bucks out of their groove in the fifth set to hang on for a 3-2 win (25-16, 25-19, 22-25, 22-25, 15-7) and avoid an upset in the regular season finale for both teams.

The Bulldogs (16-6, 10-1 CRC) started the match off in dominating fashion by taking the first two sets by wide margins. At that point it looked like an early night for the teams and another quick win for the Columbia River Conference champion Bulldogs.

But the Bucks (5-11, 4-7 CRC) weren’t done yet and battled for a pair of long set victories, taking advantage of a much sloppier Hermiston team to climb back into the match.

“We just kind of let our guard down and didn’t play as strong as we did in the first few (sets),” said Hermiston head coach Becky Wadekamper. “We just kind of let up.”

 
 
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Irrigon's Barreras (right) scored twice in a win over Grant Union. (Photo by AJ Mazzolini)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

IRRIGON — Two months ago, no one on the Irrigon soccer team expected to be where they are now. The team comprised 10 players including both boys and girls — one fewer than a regulation soccer lineup — and there wasn’t even a coach in place.

Despite the early season adversity, the Irrigon Knights (7-3, 7-3 SD5) won for the fifth consecutive time Saturday, besting Grant Union 3-1 on two second-half goals by Fernando Barreras. The victory guaranteed the Knights a finish no worse than third in the Special District 5 standings. The placing comes with a ticket to the state’s 16-team postseason tournament, the Knights’ lofty preseason goal.

“After all the work that we’ve put in, qualifying for the state (tournament) is the prize,” said Jose Romero, the former junior varsity coach for Umatilla who stepped up less than a week before the season started to coach the Irrigon team.

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Though they may have lost the battle at Pendleton’s Round-Up Grounds Friday night, coach Mark Hodges’ troops are far from out of the war.

The Bulldogs (5-3, 2-1 CRC) fell to Pendleton 26-12 in their last regular season game as the Bucks came away with the Columbia River Conference championship. Both teams will enter the state playoffs, though, and as long as the Bulldogs have a pulse in 2011, they’re still a dangerous team.

A good portion of that danger comes from senior running back Bobby Adams, the catalyst to Hermiston’s offense and their success this season. The Buckaroos were able to corral Adams on Friday for 80 yards, but the back still rushed for more than five yards per carry. He still had plenty of holes to run through and some of the explosive cutbacks that have defined Hermiston’s season. The trouble was Pendleton kept the ball out of the hands of the Bulldogs’ offense.
 
 
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The Pendleton football team enters the Round-Up Grounds. (Photos by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PENDLETON — Trailing by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Hermiston came to the line with a first and goal from Pendleton’s 7-yard line. A penalty and a few short gains later, the Bulldogs settled for a field goal attempt. And missed.

That drive wasn’t the dagger for the Bulldogs, though. The kill shot came minutes later when Pendleton scored a touchdown to stretch the lead to 26-12 — the final score — giving Pendleton (6-2, 3-0 CRC) the Columbia River Conference title over rival Hermiston (5-3, 2-1 CRC) Friday at the Round-Up Grounds.
Hermiston's Rique Cardenas runs the ball pursued by Pendleton’s Tori Eaton (2) and Austin Stein during the Bulldogs’ 26-12 loss to the Bucks on Friday in Pendleton.

The icing touchdown — a Cain Smith 1-yard blast — pushed the game nearly out of reach. Hermiston’s comeback climb was made all the more steep when starting quarterback Alex Campbell was knocked out of the game with less than four minutes to play on a heavy hit. With Campbell woozily sitting on the bench, 6-foot-9 defensive end Bryan Beard batted down replacement thrower Jerod Munsterman’s pass on fourth down to clinch the victory.

The celebration following the play would rival Pendleton’s post-game party.