The top spot in the Columbia River Conference is already spoken for but there’s still plenty of action left on the sports calendar this basketball season.
The four-team league layout means each team plays its three brethren four times on the year. The Pendleton Buckaroo boys will try and knock off Hermiston at home this Friday at 7 p.m. to complete their sweep. But staying undefeated against a rival gets increasingly more difficult the more often the teams see each other, Bucks coach David Norton said.
The Bucks (18-4, 10-0 CRC) have already won their four legs with Hood River Valley and are undefeated in league play. They clinched the conference title last week with their third win in three matches against Hermiston (5-14, 4-5 CRC).
“I don’t think too many of the coaches really like having to play the same team four times,” Norton said. “Beating somebody two or three times is hard enough, but doing it four times? That’s tough.”
The Bucks are undefeated in CRC play, but have had a few fights— namely two close games with Hermiston. The two games played at the Dawg House — victories of 53-45 and 59-53 for the Bucks — ended with Hermiston losing by single digits, a feat no other conference team managed this season against Pendleton.
The Bucks struggled to crack the zone defefense in those games. Pendleton scored its second- and fifth-lowest point totals in those games.
“You get five guys working hard defensively and playing together, you can get guys on the ball and denying,” Hermiston coach Adam Strom said. “When we can come together defensively, we have a better shot to win than if we try and run-and-gun our way out of the gym.”
Those close games played out in front of Hermiston, Pendleton’s Norton pointed out. The Bucks dissected the Bulldogs 70-48 at home.
“You’re always minus-10 points in the game (on the road). That’s the way we always think about it,” said Norton, whose team is a winner of nine straight.
The Bucks will be playing for RPI in the rankings this week, but Hermiston has much more to lose if it stumbles. The Bulldogs had won four of six to climb into second place before a pair of losses. Strom said for his team to have any shot at the playoffs, they’ll likely need to win each of their remaining games. They still may not be able to climb over The Dalles Wahtonka in RPI, even if the Eagle Indians lose their remaining two games.
“I think it’ll take no short of a miracle, and in that miracle, going 3-0 against these teams,” Strom said before his team’s win against Hood River Valley on Tuesday.