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.
“That pressure took the ball out of Logan’s hands and made Quincy take the ball up the floor,” Norton said. “That just slowed the play down because then Quincy had to get the ball to Logan.”
While George’s tough shot was the final and lasting image that fans and players might remember from Tuesday’s league matchup, the Bulldogs won the game over the final several possessions — not with just last-second defense.
After Hermiston took a 45-44 lead on an Alex Ortiz 1-of-2 free throw trip with 3:35 left, the teams were never more than three points apart. And with no room for error, Hermiston’s Eric Espain made a big one when the score remained there two minutes later. The senior Bulldog forward was jockeying for position with Pendleton post Joel Boozer when the body pushing was interrupted with a sharp elbow. With Pendleton in the bonus, Boozer went to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 chance to not only tie the game, but take a lead.
Boozer’s first shot banked out for only Pendleton’s second missed free throw in nine attempts at that point. Espain was underneath to grab the ball. He launched it to half court and guard CJ Flores before cutting under the hoop where the ball came back to him.
A simple layup later and Hermiston’s one-point lead had tripled.
“When I got called for that (foul), I felt like I had to redeem myself and then I got the opportunity to,” Espain said, calling the basket his biggest two points of the season. “Thankfully I made it. It just went in.”
The made shot accounted for half of Espain’s four points on the night.
From there Pendleton found itself in foul trouble, but not the normal kind. With only two fouls in the half, the Bucks fouled four times and wasted nearly 20 seconds off the clock while trying to get the Dawgs to the free throw line. Before that could happen, though, Logan Anderson stole a ball and a Hermiston foul put Pendleton’s Donte Robinson to the line.
He sunk both shots before the Bulldogs’ Ramon Contreras would do the same at the other end. Contreras’ eighth and ninth points would set up the final 3-point attempt by Pendleton to end the game.
The Bulldog bench spilled onto the court amidst an earthquake of excitement from the Hermiston cheering sections following the missed 3.
“It’s awesome you know, for what we went through this whole season,” said Hermiston’s Jake Flyg, who scored 14 points to lead the team along with Ortiz. “For everything we’ve gone through, it’s crazy how we’ve been so good in the conference right now.”
Pendleton’s leading scorer, George, finished with 13 points but the Bucks did their best work under the hoop. Posts Tommy Lane and Boozer combined for 19 points and each grabbed nine rebounds as Pendleton took the rebounding advantage 34-21, including 15 off the offensive glass.
The Bucks were aggressive underneath, almost too much at times. But outside of a technical-ridden battle below the basket in the second quarter, Pendleton’s passion was creating the right kind of results.
“Our kids battled. You’ve heard me say it a few times this year that we don’t work hard enough,” said Pendleton’s Norton. “That wasn’t the case at all tonight.”
With Pendleton’s presence — that of the 6-foot-6 Lane and 6-foot-5 Boozer at least — just too much to get around, Hermiston had to pick its battles. Shot selection and defense became paramount with second-chance opportunities hard to come by.
“I thought our half-court defense (was the key),” Strom said. “I think being able to defend people in the half-court man-to-man is definitely going to be necessary for us to prolong our season.”
Hermiston has won six of seven games since Ortiz and Flyg returned from early season disciplinary suspensions and is starting to peak at the right time. Despite their lackluster 7-13 overall record, the Bulldogs lead the Columbia River Conference by a game. The Bulldogs are playing like a different team now than they were a month and a half ago and not just because of personnel, Strom said.
With three games left in the CRC circuit, Hermiston is just ahead of The Dalles Wahtonka and the teams will meet in Hermiston for the Bulldogs’ senior night on Friday at 7 p.m.
Pendleton is now in third place and two games behind the top Dawgs. Last-place Hood River Valley comes to town Friday in the Bucks’ next action.
Hermiston and Pendleton will meet again to close out the season on Feb. 15 in Pendleton. The Bulldogs took the first match 53-45 on Jan. 25.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.