PENDLETON — Exactly 246 days had passed since the last time the Pendleton girls’ basketball team took the court for a competitive game before Wednesday night and the Bucks played like they were waking up from an eight-month nap.
The La Grande Tigers ran out of town with an upset victory of Pendleton, a 66-60 final in the season opener for both teams. The Class 4A Tigers hadn’t beaten Pendleton since a 45-32 game in December of 2006, a span in which the Bucks had won all seven meetings.
“Bottom line, they outrebounded us,” Pendleton head coach Aaron Schmidt said. “They killed us on the boards and that was the game right there.”
The Bucks were up 51-49 early in the final period before several quick buckets put them in a hole. They trailed by as many as seven points in the final minutes, but were still well within striking distance. A 3-point shot by junior Gabby Heehn, the team’s long-distance ace, would have turned things around but Heehn wasn’t on her best Wednesday.
Heehn led all players with 21 points, but connected on just 30 percent of her shots. She missed seven straight 3-pointers down the stretch, an uncharacteristic dry spell for her.
“We just kind of set up plays so I could get a look at a three and get us going, but obviously I was really under pressure and didn’t make them,” Heehn said.
“We know we’re better than what we showed right there ... We just didn’t do it during the game. We got shook up and that’s kind of depressing.”
La Grande’s offense — one that coach Schmidt said looked much improved from last season’s 12-11 team — was led at the helm by junior Denise Comfort. The guard scored 12 points and was a monster on the boards, racking up 11 rebounds. She and forward Lauren Mills would crash the scoring lane, drawing fouls that put many Pendleton starters on the bench.
The Bucks committed 26 fouls and lost starters Brittany Gregerson and Shelby Sanders to hacking with a good chunk of the game left to play. The normally sure-handed Gregerson finished just 1-of-9 shooting from the field and had seven turnovers.
But the loss that hurt the most was Sanders’ absence in the middle, Schmidt said. While she sat the bench, the remaining players tried to fill her post-player sized hole on defense. That’s when the Tigers nabbed many of their offensive rebounds.
“We’re better when she’s on the floor and she only played seven minutes tonight,” Schmidt said.
The Bucks’ RPI will take a hit from the loss but the early-season hiccup will help the team identify the areas that need the most work, he said. Those areas fall on both sides of the ball.