PENDLETON — The games of the Umatilla County rivalry series between Hermiston and Pendleton have featured some of the tightest contests of either teams’ schedules, games so close a single possession could have warped the outcome.
On Friday, the Bucks finally got one to swing their way.
The Pendleton boys held off Hermiston with a reliable string of free throws and dodged a pair of Bulldog 3-point attempts in the final 10 seconds to a avoid a season sweep. The Bucks’ 55-52 victory at Warberg Court wrapped the regular season for both squads and will likely keep Pendleton’s campaign alive — at least for now.
The Bucks (11-11, 5-4 CRC), ranked 23rd by the OSAA going into the game, had to avoid falling out of the top 24 to have any shot at the postseason. The 24 teams advance to the play-in round of the Class 5A state playoffs, but may get bumped by a league champion ranked below the line.
For Pendleton, Friday’s rivalry clash was a must-win.
But the Bucks’ chances took a major hit in the first quarter. Tommy Lane, a 6-foot-6 post and one of the two support beams that have supported up the Bucks this season, was injured while going for a lose rebound on the floor. The big man broke his right collarbone while colliding with Hermiston’s Ramon Contreras.
Lane, a senior who has signed to play baseball with St. Mary’s College (Calif.) for baseball, will likely miss the start of baseball season on top of whatever games the basketball Bucks have left.
“For Tommy, that’s too bad. He came out this season to play with his senior buddies and to help out the team,” Pendleton coach David Norton said, ‘but he’s gotten so much better as the season’s progressed. He’s been a huge part of what we’ve done this year.”
But the Bucks didn’t wilt in the paint without Lane. Pendleton still managed a 38-30 rebounding advantage, including 16 off the offensive glass, by shifting the weight. Joel Boozer, the other Pendleton skyscraper at 6-foot-5, nabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 14 points and guard Quincy George added nine another nine.
“We had to step up and do that for him,” Boozer said of his fallen teammate. “I had to step it up, knowing I was the only big man out there. I had to step up for my team.”
Pendleton managed to build a 27-21 lead at halftime behind 12-of-25 shooting, many of those buckets from right around the rim. Out of the halftime stoppage Hermiston went outside, though. Alex Ortiz and Contreras hit 3s on back-to-back possessions and some easy free throws later, the Bulldogs were on top 29-27.
Hermiston would win the third quarter 16-8 and move ahead 40-35 near the start of the fourth quarter. The deficit would never climb so high again on either side and the lead would swap three more times before the climactic finish.
Pendleton shot 12-of-18 from the free throw line in that final frame, including a 7-of-10 performance from Logan Anderson. The Buckaroo junior scored all nine of his points in the fourth.
“When it comes down to crunch time for us, that’s really what we worked on this week in practice,” Anderson said. “That and just being able to finish. Completely finish the game and not let down, even if Ortiz gets a bucket, hits a 3, we still try and come back with intensity.
“I’d say definitely two losses to Hermiston will make you come back and play your third game pretty good.”
Having seen it twice already, Pendleton knew Ortiz could change a game and he got his looks. He finished with 12 points, five in the fourth quarter, and made a pair of 3-pointers.
But down by four points with 19 seconds to play — following a 2-of-2 trip to the free throw line by George, Ortiz and Lucas Wyant both missed quick 3-pointers that could have cut the lead to one. After Wyant got the offensive rebound on the second shot, a foul sent him to the line with four seconds to play.
Wyant made the first. It was a three-point game now. Wyant chunked the second shot intentionally and came flying up the lane for the offensive rebound, his ninth board, but another shot rattled out.
“I’m just really looking to make some kind of play to tie the game up at the very end,” Wyant said. “The whole thing was pretty intense. This is my first year on varsity and it was quite the experience for me.”
Ten days earlier, Hermiston had held off the Bucks in a similar game 49-46 where Pendleton’s George left a long-range 3-pointer off the mark at the buzzer. The three games in this season’s series have been decided by a combined 14 points.
Hermiston’s Jake Flyg added 12 points to his team’s assault on Friday’ and Wyant finished with nine.
George led Pendleton with 16 points, seven coming in a 20-point fourth for the Bucks, and Zane Schnetzky added 10 more including two 3-pointers.
The Bucks and Bulldogs will now await their play-in fate. Both teams will play that game on the road, though, with games taking place sometime before Feb. 27.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.