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Pendleton's Colton Skeen goes for a hold. (Photo by Joe Tierney)
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

The hardwood floors of Warberg Court at Pendleton High were covered with foam mats Thursday as competitors from 14 schools descended on the gymnasium.

“Grab him and squeeze him and put him on his back!” Pendleton wrestling coach Fred Phillips exclaimed during a consolation round of grappling.

The Pendleton Buckaroos did just that, and better than any program save one at the Free-Berry Classic tournament where the Bucks took second place behind Crook County. Pendleton had three boys win weight-class championships, short of just Crook County’s four.

“I thought we wrestled a lot better this weekend than we did going into Christmas at the Adrian Irwin Tournament,” Phillips said. “A couple weeks ago ... some of our not as experienced guys were thinking too much about a big tournament. We talked to them and told them just to go out and wrestle and they did that pretty well.”

 
 
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Mac-Hi's Francisco Saldana takes down an opponent. (Photo by Joe Tierney)
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

The Buckaroos weren’t the only Eastern Oregon squad with a strong performance at the Free-Berry Classic wrestling tournament on Thursday. Class 3A Riverside had a sixth-place finish, led by individual champion Hans Rockwell at the 106-pound weight.

Rockwell, a freshman, beat Crook County’s Trayton Libolt 6-3, only giving up a few points late in the match for stalling. The meeting wasn’t the first between the two boys as Rockwell managed a fall victory with only seconds left in their match two weeks ago in a Bend tournament.

“I knew that he wasn’t very strong with his upper body so I kind of tried to throw him a little bit,” Rockwell said. “I got in that position more and I felt safer.”

 
 
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Lupe Delgado (black) is pinned in the finals. (Photo by AJ Mazzolini)
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PASCO, Wash. — The Hermiston Bulldogs’ perennial winners did it again Friday, but couldn’t quite help the team to a tournament victory.

Four Hermiston wrestlers moved into the finals of the Best of the West tournament at Pasco High, but only sophomore Tyler Berger and senior Joey Delgado brought home tournament championships. 

One more winner could have moved Hermiston from third into second in team point totals, in which the Bulldogs trailed Chelan (Wash.) 124.5 to 118.5. Both squads were a healthy distance from the first-place team from Caldwell (Idaho), which scored 165 points with five wrestlers placing.

It’s still a heck of an effort for a team that’s been hamstrung by injuries so far this season, Hermiston coach Curt Berger said.

 
 
Pendleton stadium
The Buckaroo football team runs passing drills on the practice field in October at Pendleton High School. Pendleton boosters and athletic officials would like to build a multi-use sports stadium to replace the field. (Photo by EJ Harris)
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Buckaroo athletes could have a new sports venue to call home someday soon. Just not too soon.

“Right now we’re just in the dream phases of it,” said Mark Christensen, the head of a committee of Pendleton High School coaches and booster club members captaining the charge to build a multi-purpose sports stadium. The stadium would be equipped with artificial field-turf and a track to allow Buckaroo teams from several sports to use the facility.
 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

The Nixyaawii Golden Eagles led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter. Then junior Josh Barkley, the motor that makes Nixyaawii’s boys’ basketball team run, fouled out.

Without Barkley to run the game, the Golden Eagles (4-5, 1-1 BSC) fell in overtime to Pine Eagle 65-58 on Tuesday afternoon.

Trailing by two with just seconds to play, Joe Akers of Pine Eagle (1-6) put in a shot from under the hoop to send the game to an extra period tied at 53-all. A Nixyaawii timeout with 8.6 seconds left gave the Golden Eagles time to draw up a play. Barkley would normally take the shots in such crucial moments. The task fell to Ajiah Ganualas-Smartlowit.

“We were trying to run a pick-and-roll pretty much,” said Ganualas-Smartlowit, a sophomore. “A screen to let us go to the hoop and cut in, or else I’ll take the (3-point) shot.”
 
 
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

MISSION — There are 32 minutes in a regulation high school basketball game in Oregon. The trouble the Nixyaawii girls’ team has had this season is keeping focused for all of them.

Against Pine Eagle on Tuesday, the Golden Eagles started strong and finished strong, but struggled mightily in between, losing to the Spartans 46-34 at home. Nixyaawii (3-6, 1-1 BSC) held a lead until just before halftime before things unraveled.

“I think we started getting down on each other and we let the refs take it from us, I think, instead of playing to our potential,” said Taryn Ostrom, a junior Golden Eagle. “We let the refs get to us with all the fouls they were calling.”

A pressure defense from Pine Eagle (6-1) resulted in loose balls skidding across the court and out of the hands of Nixyaawii players. As the turnovers started to mount, the Nixyaawii team got increasingly flustered and undisciplined, committing fouls in the second half.
 
 
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PILOT ROCK — Against Stanfield on Saturday night, Pilot Rock’s Jordan Jeppe acted like she out-measured every Tiger player by four feet instead of the actual four inches she held on them. Jeppe scored 14 points on offense and made the inside of the key her domain by grabbing 25 rebounds and guiding Pilot Rock to a 36-34 victory.

Pilot Rock (3-3, 1-1 BMC) picked up its first win in Blue Mountain Conference league play despite a poor shooting performance. A lot of missed shots gave Jeppe and others opportunities for rebounds on the offensive end. Jeppe accounted for 11 of the team’s 20 offensive boards.

“Our shots were not falling; I don’t know what it was,” Jeppe said. “We knew we had to block out ... and we came back in the second half. That’s all that’s important, that we don’t quit.”
 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PILOT ROCK — A three-point play from junior Logan Thorne propelled the Pilot Rock Rockets to a 56-48 victory over Stanfield on Saturday night in a juicy, early matchup in the Blue Mountain Conference schedule.

With the win, the season record for Pilot Rock (7-0, 2-0 BMC) remained unblemished in the loss column, while Stanfield (4-2, 1-1 BMC) suffered its first defeat in league action.

The Rockets clung to a 50-48 lead with just north of three minutes to play in the game when Thorne took a hard foul while in the act of shooting. The ball rolled through the rim and Thorne sunk the ensuing free throw — his 14th and final point of the night — as the Rockets finished the game on a 6-0 run.
 
 
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__By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — Lewiston’s lead stood at four points, near its largest, with 1:40 left in the game. The score had held tight for the previous 30-minutes-plus, with Hermiston and Lewiston swapping leads 14 times.

But from that point on, all the bounces went the way of the Bulldogs.

Senior Maloree Moss provided the final lead change of the contest — a floater that rattled through the iron at the buzzer — as Hermiston knocked off the previously undefeated Lewiston (Idaho) Bengals 49-47 Friday night.

Moss’ heroics were set up by a pair of missed free throws by Lewiston (7-1) junior Karlee Wilson, who had been 2-for-2 from the line prior to that point. With eight seconds left, Wilson dinged her second charity shot off the rim and Bulldog Heidi Walchli nabbed the rebound.

(Photo by EJ Harris)
Hermiston’s Maloree Moss passes while guarded by Lewiston’s Jennifer Hansen in the Bulldogs’ 49-47 win.
 
 

Man on a Mission

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Blue Mountain Community College forward Kyle Davis took a two-year hiatus from basketball after graduating high school in 2007. A Division-I recruit, Davis chose work as a missionary over attending college and playing the game he loved. (Photo by EJ Harris)
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

The recruitment letters for Kyle Davis started coming about five years ago. From their letterheads shone the crests of schools like Santa Clara, Montana State and the Air Force Academy.

But none of the schools received the answer they sought; namely, a four-year basketball commitment from Davis. He still has all the letters, though, neatly stacked away at his family home in Las Vegas. They sit there as a momento and a reminder, even now as he plays his final season of basketball at Blue Mountain Community College.