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.
It’s the fourth blowout and fifth win overall for Hermiston (11-8, 5-1 CRC) since the beginning of league play three weeks ago and the Dawgs are past just foaming at the mouth. They’re looking like true postseason contenders.
It all started at the Nike Interstate Shootout Tournament in December, coach Steve Hoffert believes. Since Hermiston’s second-place finish there just after Christmas, the team is 9-3 and has moved to first in the CRC.
“We went from a good basketball club working hard to a really good basketball club believing in what they were doing when they started winning and beating teams,” he said. “You could see it in their confidence off the floor at practice. The communication started.”
And against a Hermiston team on that kind of a hot streak on Tuesday, Pendleton’s window for victory was more of a crack and soon to be sealed shut.
The Bucks (9-11, 3-3 CRC) turned the ball over 12 times in just the first quarter and 30 times overall, but were still within a few possessions at 16-6 during the first quarter break. Hermiston really leaned on the gas in the second, though, scoring 25 points while taking the commanding lead.
Halftime couldn’t come soon enough for Pendleton. But before the sanctuary of the locker room, Hermiston handed out a first-half parting gift. The Dawgs scored six points in the final four seconds of the half on four free throws and a Walchli layup.
The Bucks looked beaten at that point — not just on the scoreboard, but in their body language.
“It’s kind of ‘game over’ for them a little bit at that point,” Walchli said of getting in the opponent’s head. “It’s a physical sport but your mental state can kill you, what you think and if you’re scared or over-thinking or whatever. So once you’re in their head, it’s hard for them to recover. It’ll take a halftime or a sit on the bench or whatever.”
For Pendleton there was no recovery. Hermiston eased off in the second half but still extended its 26-point lead without much trouble. Walchli would take the Bulldogs’ top scoring spot for the game with 24 points, backed by McKenzie Byrd’s 16 and Tavin Headings 11. Jansen Edmiston added eight rebounds and three steals to go with four points on a perfect 4-of-4 free-throw shooting performance.
The Bucks got eight points from each Jessika McDonald and Ellie Richards, the latter’s total all coming in the first half. But Pendleton’s turnovers and swiftly growing foul count made it difficult to start any rally.
“Against Herm, it’s a lot about handling their pressure,” Pendleton coach Aaron Schmidt said. “You’ve got to be able to handle their pressure and it’s not a lot about running plays. You’ve just got to attack the basket, you’ve got to kick, you’ve got to move.”
The Bucks, who started CRC play 3-0 and have since lost their last four overall, are No. 3 in the conference behind Hermiston and The Dalles Wahtonka. Pendleton will visit last-place Hood River Valley on Friday, the last team the Bucks beat back on Jan. 22.
Hermiston goes to The Dalles to face the Eagle Indians that same evening with a chance to put a tighter grip on the top spot in the conference.
Two games later, the Bulldogs will be back in Pendleton — where they beat the Bucks 57-43 on Jan. 25 — to finish off the regular-season slate.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.