HERMISTON — The Hermiston boys’ basketball team dug into the playbook of the gridiron Bulldogs and put the game in the hands of their two-sport star athlete at the end of a Columbia River Conference game with Hood River Valley on Friday.
Guarding a four-point lead, Hermiston went deep not once but twice in the final minute, long bombs that led to two Alex Ortiz layups. The Bulldogs gave themselves some space and would win by more than a touchdown, 57-48.
After Hood River Valley turned the ball over with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter, Hermiston coach Adam Strom called a timeout to draw up the right play for the ensuing in-bounds pass. He needed something that was low risk, but came with a decent amount upswing if executed well.
So it was that Jake Flyg pulled back his throwing arm like a quarterback and hit a streaking Ortiz in the key on the opposite end of the court. Ortiz launched into the air, snagging the ball out of harm’s way and away from the pursuing defender, and drove to the basket. His layup found hoop — even despite a hard foul from Eagle Luke Kopecky.
“He threw me the ball and I tried to be like a receiver and go get it,” Ortiz said of the play.
But the Bulldogs (6-13, 4-1 CRC) weren’t done spreading the field. Hood River Valley (4-13, 0-5 CRC) missed a rushed 3-pointer on its next possession and the Dawgs took over on a jump-ball call. This time CJ Flores quarterbacked the ball to the far court for Flyg, who dished it inside to Ortiz for another layup. What had been a four-point gap — and just a two-pointer seconds before that — became a game no longer in question.
But with the way the Dawgs ran through the first quarter, leading 17-6 after eight minutes, a one-possession game in the final minutes seemed more of a long shot than Hermiston’s Hail Marys. A sloppy second-quarter for the Bulldogs acted like a step ladder for the Eagles to erase a double-digit deficit in a matter of minutes. Hermiston had five of its 15 turnovers in the quarter and shot 2-of-8 from the free throw line.
In the meantime, Hood River Valley cut its turnovers way down and shot 9-of-14 to score 19 in the quarter.
“They were adjusting to some of the defenses we were running but at the same time, some of our players didn’t have trust in each other,” Hermiston’s Ramon Contreras said. “They came up and went on a scoring run and I think it was just that trust that we didn’t have.”
Contreras carried the Dawgs like a backpack through the first half, scoring 13 of his team-high 19 in the opening two quarters. The Bulldogs needed the junior guard to step up with Ortiz largely ineffective up to that point. He had only two points at halftime and three turnovers. Ortiz would finish with 13, but five of them came on the Dawgs’ final two scoring possessions on those long passes.
Ortiz wasn’t the only Dawg having trouble getting to the hoop on Friday. Center Colby Alexander, the Bulldogs’ tallest varsity listing at 6-foot-4, saw almost as many fouls whistled his way as minutes played. With Alexander only able to manage seven minutes before fouls got the best of him, and the 6-3 Ortiz not the same dynamic player under the hoop as he can be, the Dawgs started going outside.
Hermiston shot 6-of-13 from 3-point range, half of those coming from Contreras. The Bulldogs made just one more field goal than Hood River Valley for the game, but with the Eagles going oh-for on eight 3-point attempts, the scoring margin continued to grow.
“We don’t want to rely on it, but if we have to take shots — sometimes not good, sometimes good — in some situations we have the confidence to shoot the ball and we will shoot it,” Contreras said.
For Hermiston, Tuesday’s win was a close call that could have gone the other way had Hood River Valley not buried itself with some ball-handling mistakes. The Eagles turned the ball over 23 times, including a handful on passes to no one. About a quarter of their turnovers came when one Eagle would cut in a direction that another with the ball hadn’t anticipated. The passes soared into the first several rows of the bleachers and became the Dawgs possession.
“I can’t explain that. They got flustered, made bad passes,” Hood River Valley coach Steve Noteboom said.
Noteboom’s boys were led by Ryan Wheat, who finished with a game-high 20 points. Luke Kopecky had 14, including six straight during a two-minute stretch in the second quarter that helped erase the once-vast deficit. He scored on three straight possessions while the Bulldogs missed shots in between to get the game to 21-20.
Hermiston will get Round 2 of the Umatilla County rivalry series on Tuesday in its next action. The Bulldogs host Pendleton at 7 p.m. after having beaten the Buckaroos 53-45 last Friday in Pendleton.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.