Next stop on the Bulldog Express: Eugene.
The Hermiston girls’ basketball team rolled past Liberty 63-33 in the first round of the OSSA Class 5A state basketball playoffs on Friday. With the win, the Bulldogs punched their ticket to the quarterfinals and the final bracket of the state tournament held in the University of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena. The Dawgs (21-5) will play an afternoon game on Wednesday, March 7 against No. 5 Bend (19-5) —winners of 13 straight.
For Hermiston, the Columbia River Conference champions, a season’s worth of events would mean nothing if the Bulldogs couldn’t control a 32-minute game on Friday, senior guard Maloree Moss said.
Another more important goal awaits just down the tracks: playing for a state title.
Despite the final score, the first-round blowout against Liberty (12-14) didn’t always look so one-sided.
Trailing 26-11 at halftime, the fifth-place team from the Northwest Oregon Conference realized Hermiston was on the verge of terminating their season. Liberty emulated the Bulldogs’ defensive pressure that forced 20 turnovers in the game, and came out hungry after the intermission.
Four straight Hermiston possessions to start the third ended in turnovers and short baskets for the Falcons. The lead shrunk down to just seven points during that two minutes.
“We needed to come out harder and believe that we could come back if we really wanted to,” Liberty’s junior post Emily Flinn said. “We were trying to feed off of their crowd, even though they weren’t cheering for us, and just feed
off that energy.”
Hermiston coach Steve Hoffert shouted for a timeout and gathered his girls. They seemed caught off guard by the press and needed to collect their wits to make a stand.
“We’re not going to go to Eugene and beat anybody playing like this,” Hoffert said to the team. “We’re starting to get complacent and complacency costs you...You can either let them play with you or put this thing away. You make the
The Bulldogs came out with a full head of steam in the next three minutes, shooing away the Falcons’ final lingering hopes at a state berth. Hermiston answered the 8-0 run by Liberty with a 14-0 streak of their own. Up 40-19, the Dawgs regained their swagger. Hermiston scored 37 points in the second half to distance themselves from the competition.
Moss finished her last game in the Dawg House with 16 points and four assists while scoring her team’s first seven points. In fact, through the first quarter and a half, no other Bulldog scored save Callahan Crossley.
Prior to a pair of free throws by Gracie Flyg — who scored five points and wrangled seven rebounds — The Mal and Cal Show accounted for Hermiston’s first 18 points. During a two-minute window that included parts of the first and
second quarters, Crossley hit three straight 3-pointers.
“You can’t really think about it, you just have to catch and shoot and hope they’ll go in,” said Crossley of her hot stretch.
She finished with those nine points — third on the team behind Jeni Hoffert’s 13 — and attempted only one other field goal during the contest. Finn led the Hillsboro-based Liberty Falcons in scoring and rebounds with 11 and 13 apiece, but got little help from her supporting cast. Guard Kylie Wruble, who coach Hoffert had spotlighted before the game as a shooter to keep an eye on, managed just four points and was hounded by the Bulldog defense all night.
The No. 4 team in the state from Hermiston will look to surpass last season’s finish in the state tournament with aspirations of a quarterfinal victory next week. Hermiston lost its first-round game to Willamette by a point last year and the Dawgs had to win a pair of consolation games to finish in fourth place.