HERMISTON — Following Wednesday’s basketball practice — the last before the Hermiston Bulldogs travel to Battle Ground, Wash., today for their final road trip prior to the winter break — coach Adam Strom gathered his boys.
His high-school audience was hopeful and positive, much the same as when Hermiston broke its offseason slumber before the season-opener against Clackamas on Nov. 28. But where that optimism stood tall on the shoulders of a season’s new beginnings, Wednesday’s was a little different. They’re hoping for another first win: their first as a new group.
The 1-5 Bulldogs were thrown a major curveball when four key players faced disciplinary action for breaking the school’s athlete code of conduct policy during a road trip to Lewiston, Idaho, on the opening weekend of the season. Players Jake Flyg and Cole Schwirse were suspended for seven games while expected-star Alex Ortiz will sit 10 games. Per Hermiston’s athlete code of conduct agreement, a second violation for Alonso Ortiz meant removal from the team for the season.
The other three are serving mandatory losses of 30 percent of the season — roughly seven games — or more.
But their exits have opened temporary holes for new talent and hope springs anew once again in the form of the six varsity boys who started the year at the JV level. The alternative roster is coming into its fourth game of existence with Battle Ground tonight, a 6 p.m. tip-off, and the boys are starting to understand each other more. Their first three games together ended in three losses by a combined 24 points.
“The team comradery and togetherness, the trust in one another is really there,” Strom said.
That didn’t exist two weeks ago. The Bulldogs lost their first game under their new format to Hanford (WA) by 13 points as they stumbled down the stretch.
“At first it was alright, I think we played pretty good,” junior starter Ramon Contreras said after that loss. “But as it went on, it was clear that (we) were kind of lost, didn’t know what was going on at times.”
Contreras and junior transfer guard CJ Flores were expected to be defensive stoppers on a team with plenty other scoring options. But without Flyg at point guard and the dynamic Alex Ortiz to put the ball in the basket, roles and expectations have shifted. The role players must now become the playmakers and the newest crop must fill in the gaps behind them.
That’s where former JV players like Nico Calderon and Dillon Zimmerly and new starters Joseph Burns, Eric Espain and Lucas Wyant have had to step up. They’ve been asked not just to log major minutes, but contribute points and shut-down defense.
The defense has come along already but the scoring is still light as the teammates adjust to each other and the varsity level of competition, Strom said.
“The big picture is that we’re missing a playmaker, a guy who can make things happen,” he said.
And that’s something that can’t develop in two weeks. By the time the Dawgs start to find their identity, a second wave of adjustments will take place as the suspended bodies will begin to trickle back.
Flyg and Schwirse will return three games before Columbia River Conference play begins with time to work their ways back into game form. Alex Ortiz’s suspension conveniently expires for the first CRC game, a home contest with The Dalles Wahtonka on Jan. 15.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839.