HERMISTON — Realignment divided them but the OSSA Class 5A girls’ basketball tournament is bringing them back together.
For the first time since the teams finished 1-2 in the Intermountain Conference in 2010, the Bend Lava Bears (19-5) and Hermiston Bulldogs (21-5) will square off on the hardwood in the quarterfinals of the state tournament Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. The tournament is played in Matthew Knight Arena, the home of the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.
The Bulldogs, who won the Columbia River Conference the past two seasons after breaking away from the IMC following the 2009-10 campaign, will be looking to exercise their recent first-day demons at the state tournament. The Bulldogs took losses in the first game of the 2010 and 2011 final brackets before bouncing back for a pair of fourth-place finishes.
To do that, Hermiston must first get past the defensive-minded Lava Bears. Bend throws a variety of press defenses at opponents and emphasizes ball control on its offensive possessions. The Bulldogs can expect to see a lot of passing around the outside and waiting for openings when Bend has the ball.
The Bulldogs’ defense is nearly as stout — Bend allows 38.6 points per game with Hermiston close behind at 40.3 — but after they create turnovers with pressure, Hoffert likes to set the girls loose to run the floor and score.
“I’m not sure if we contrast completely, but Bend scores are typically in the 30s and 40s and we like to score in the 60s and 70s,” Hoffert said. “Their strength is our weakness and I think vice versa.”
While beating Liberty 63-33 on Saturday to get to the quarters, Hermiston saw sporadic flashes of pressure defense from the Falcons and struggled to adapt. Most teams in the CRC didn’t bring the kind defensive heat like Hermiston will see from this point on, but senior guard Maloree Moss doesn’t expect the team to be fazed after practicing for the pressure.
“At the state tournament, we will be ready for it and it won’t jostle us like it did (against Liberty),” Moss said.
The No. 5 team in the state, Bend’s key to success lies in the post presence of 6-foot-2 Mekayla Isaak and 6-footer Ally McConnell. The pair accounts for roughly half the team’s scoring output and combine to block better than four opponent shots per game on defense.
A slight favorite, No. 4 Hermiston will counter by spreading its smaller roster around the outside on offense. The Dawgs have several deep threats and average more than four 3-pointers per contest. Junior Heidi Walchli leads the team in that department with over 30, but Moss and senior Jeni Hoffert are close behind. Defensively, the speedy Bulldogs will try and keep the Lava Bears from setting up under the hoop.
Each team brings an impressive winning streak into the contest, but only one will survive the day. Hermiston has won 14 straight games while sweeping its conference play. Bend won the Intermountain Conference while taking its last 13 straight, but three of those were close calls in overtime.
It took extra time for the Lava Bears to beat Corvallis 41-37 in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday.
Wednesday’s winner will next play on Friday in the semifinals round while the loser takes the path the Bulldogs have grown to know in the last two years. The consolation games start Thursday morning.