PENDLETON — Execute and effort.
Two words make up one philosophy for the Pendleton boys’ basketball team. Success comes through executing the game plan and exhausting all effort.
So it was that coach David Norton came about Tuesday’s starting lineup for the Columbia River Conference opener against Hood River Valley. The Bucks have struggled defensively for stretches this year, so Norton tinkered and tweaked, plugging in the players who’ve shown the most defensive intensity in practices and — at times — in live game action.
Whether through design or not, Pendleton produced one of its best defensive efforts of the season, holding the Eagles to just 20 first-half points in a 83-54 victory. Pendleton’s points against averages in the 60s this season and the team was coming off a season second-worst 71 allowed to Lincoln in a loss on Friday.
Some of the usual starting suspects for Pendleton (6-7, 1-0 CRC) were watching the opening tip-off from the bench Tuesday. Instead, defensive specialists Isaiah Polhamus and Taylor Hillmick were on the floor and the change created no shortage of scoring chemistry in the early goings.
Pendleton opened the game with a sizzling spree of shots, rolling into halftime with a 59.4-percent shooting line. Steals were plentiful and transition points were leaving Hood River Valley far behind. The Eagles (4-8, 0-1 CRC) couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game.
And when big-minute loggers Joel Boozer, Logan Anderson and Donte Robinson saw their first action after four or five minutes of the game gone, the fired kept burning.
“It showed, everybody played great tonight,” said Hillmick, whose varsity minutes have been so rare that his name still graces the JV list on the pregame roster handouts. “It just made everybody think, ‘Hey, you know I’ve got to fight for this.’ Everybody’s fighting for it now and that’s what we’ve got to do if we want to go where we want to be.”
Hood River Valley’s defenders aided in the quick run for the Bucks. When they weren’t looking lost altogether, the Eagles were losing their defensive assignments.
“Not getting back on defense, not rebounding, and when we throw up a shot and no one rebounds, they’re going to get the ball and keep pushing,” Hood River Valley coach Steve Noteboom said.
By half, Pendleton was soaring to its first league victory. But in the third quarter, the ghost of games past started to haunt the Bucks. Pendleton followed up a 29-point second quarter with just 10 in the third on 3-of-9 shooting. The home teamed turned the ball over seven times — after only five in the first half — and started fouling.
Pendleton has failed to finish games this year, struggling to maintain defensive energy in the second half and in turn watching its scoring production take a dive.
“We just get a lead and kind of let off. We’ve got to work on that,” said Zane Schnetzky, trying to diagnosis the Pendleton problem.
Easier said than done.
So during the third quarter intermission, Coach Norton rallied his boys to try and send a message he’s grown all too familiar at giving.
“I always ask them, “Is this how we want to finish our season? Do we want to be that team that can’t finish the second half?” Norton said.
Like they’d just awoken from a nap, Pendleton took the reminder to heart. At the half way point of the fourth quarter, Pendleton built its largest lead of the game at 32 points when Quincy George knocked down one of his four 3-pointers and Anderson followed it with a 1-of-2 free throw trip two possessions later.
Soon after, Norton went for another lineup change — this one of all JV and deep bench players. George would leave the game with 22 points, most among all players, and five assists and three steals. Robinson scored 17 in just 19 minutes, shooting 8-of-13 from the field. Eight of the nine shooters for Pendleton in the game finished with shooting percentage at 50 or higher as the Bucks made baskets at 54.5 percent as a unit.
Anderson scored 11 and Boozer 10 to wrap up the Bucks’ double-digit boys. Boozer and George were team co-leaders with six rebounds apiece.
Hood River Valley ran a mostly one-man offense. Guard Ryan Wheat went for 20 points, though all came in the first three quarters. The senior was shut out when the Bucks returned to their senses in the final frame.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.