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Francisco Nunez shoots the ball. (Photo/EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PENDLETON — Though the Blue Mountain Conference has three of the top four ranked boys’ teams in Class 2A basketball now at the end of regular season, one squad has done more than the others to draw the attention of the whole state to Eastern Oregon.

It’s Irrigon Knights’ world, everyone else is just living in it.

Irrigon’s undefeated dominant run has already earned the Knights (24-0, 16-0 BMC) a spot in the state tournament regardless of finish when the dust settles at the BMC District Tournament this weekend in Pendleton. In fact, eight of the ten teams competing at the Pendleton Convention Center will move on to the state rounds.

The league can thank Grant Union for that bump after three teams have been historically state eligible in the past before the Prospectors joined the BMC this school year. And with statewide No. 2 Pilot Rock and No. 4 Grant Union in the bracket on the boys’ side along with three of the top seven girls’ teams in their half, the Blue Mountain Conference is set up to not just populate the state tournament but throw its weight around.


 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


Embattled coaching duo Jon and Melissa Bowerman, son and daughter-in-law of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, will be taking their talents to Madras this spring.

The Bowermans led Condon/Wheeler to a Class 1A girls state track championship last spring while Melissa, 41, was being dismissed by the schools’ administrations for taking a student to the Condon prom in April. They will serve as voluntary coaches on the four-coach staff for the White Buffaloes.


 
 
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Irrigon's Fredy Vera scores earlier this season. (Photo/EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


The Irrigon Knights’ winning reputation has extended far beyond the Blue Mountain Conference this season.  The boys from Irrigon have been the talk of Class 2A  basketball statewide, absolutely slicing through the competition on their way to a thus-far undefeated 22-0 record and No. 1 ranking per the OSAA.

Along the way, Irrigon has put up team total of 71 points per game to just 42 allowed. The Knights have beaten every opponent but two by double digits. But one of those teams, Pilot Rock, remains on the schedule for this weekend.

The Rockets and Knights played in a serious game-of-the-year candidate contest on Jan. 12 in Pendleton with Irrigon eking out the 68-64 victory in overtime. The squads go for Round 2 tonight in Irrigon at 7:30 p.m. with the Knights’ No. 1 seed to the district tournament and perfect record both on the line.


 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


The Echo Cougars enter this final weekend of Big Sky Conference boys’ basketball as comfortable as can be. The Cougars have already locked up the East’s No. 1 seed for the district tournament in Hermiston the following week.

But behind Echo, four teams are still fighting for the other two East tournament spots. The BSC District Tournament will feature the top three teams from each side of the league, but only half of those six advance to the state playoffs.


 
 
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Bulldog Jansen Edmiston dribbles. (Photo/Randy Thompson)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


HERMISTON — Hermiston’s Heidi Walchli sunk her first free throw with a pleasing swish. Seconds later, she capped the trip to the line with another. As the Bulldogs’ senior trotted back to half court to transition to defense, a resounding message came from the Hermiston student section:

“It’s all over. It’s all over. It’s all over,” the boisterous crowd chanted.


 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


HERMISTON — Hermiston 2, Pendleton 0.

The Bulldogs took the second of three installments in the Umatilla County rivalry series on Tuesday, a game very deserving of an overtime. But the Bulldogs wouldn’t allow a fifth period.

Guarding a three-point lead with 12.1 seconds left in the game, Hermiston clamped down on Pendleton’s full-court drive, forcing the Buckaroos’ best outside shooting threat, Quincy George, into a contested and hurried jumper from long range. The basketball caromed off the glass and the rim, a scoreboard in the background showing no time remaining.

The Dawgs had prevailed 49-46.


Hermiston's Ramon Contreras drives against Pendleton's Tommy Lane. (Photo/Cassie White)

 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


ATHENA — After allowing 41 first-half Irrigon points and trailing by 16 going into the break, Weston-McEwen needed a change. It came in the first few minutes of the third when the TigerScots left it all out on the court — maybe literally.

Following a 15-4 run, the first nine points all for the TigerScots, Weston-McEwen would pull to within five at 45-40. But Irrigon’s speed and talent made it impossible for the home team to continue at that torrid pace as the Knights turned things around in a hurry, racing for the finish line and a 69-50 victory on Saturday.


 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


ATHENA — Weston-McEwen simultaneously guaranteed itself some action beyond next week’s regular season finale while making sure the Irrigon Knights wouldn’t get to join.

With a 44-35 Blue Mountain Conference win on Saturday, Weston-McEwen (14-9, 8-7 BMC) gave itself enough separation from the Knights (9-13, 6-8 BMC) in the league standings to put Irrigon out of postseason contention. The TigerScots, the No. 5 team in the BMC right now, can finish no lower than that while Irrigon can climb no higher than No. 6.


 
 
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Hermiston's Ramon Contreras makes a layup. (Photo/EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


HERMISTON — The Hermiston boys’ basketball team dug into the playbook of the gridiron Bulldogs and put the game in the hands of their two-sport star athlete at the end of a Columbia River Conference game with Hood River Valley on Friday.

Guarding a four-point lead, Hermiston went deep not once but twice in the final minute, long bombs that led to two Alex Ortiz layups. The Bulldogs gave themselves some space and would win by more than a touchdown, 57-48.

After Hood River Valley turned the ball over with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter, Hermiston coach Adam Strom called a timeout to draw up the right play for the ensuing in-bounds pass. He needed something that was low risk, but came with a decent amount upswing if executed well.

So it was that Jake Flyg pulled back his throwing arm like a quarterback and hit a streaking Ortiz in the key on the opposite end of the court. Ortiz launched into the air, snagging the ball out of harm’s way and away from the pursuing defender, and drove to the basket. His layup found hoop — even despite a hard foul from Eagle Luke Kopecky.


 
 
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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


STANFIELD — Speed kills — or so say public service announcements championing safe driving or warning of the dangers of drugs. But for the Pilot Rock boys’ basketball team, speed creates.

The Rockets caught Stanfield napping far too many times in Tuesday’s Blue Mountain Conference game, exploiting moments of weakness to craft a 17-1 run that helped them race to a 68-52 victory.