PENDLETON — Through three quarters Saturday, the Pilot Rock defense kept a leash on Enterprise’s Marta Stangel, a returning all-state point guard and Blue Mountain Conference player of the year hopeful.
But that’s the thing about players of the year: give ‘em an inch and they’ll take the game.
Two minutes into the final period, Pilot Rock’s Jessie Doherty put in a layup to give her team a 35-28 lead. It would be almost five minutes of game time — or an eternity to Rocket fans — before another Pilot Rock (14-4, 7-3 BMC) shot budged the net.
In the meantime, Stangel found her stroke. She hit 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and layups of her own as Enterprise (15-2, 9-1 BMC) outscored the Rockets 16-9 in the final frame.
“She took over the game and that was the difference,” Pilot Rock coach Butch Wilson said. “When she really decides to play basketball, I don’t know of anybody that can stop her. ... They were down most of the whole game until the end and she just did her thing. We’ve seen it for four years.”
Stangel’s first three quarters rarely hinted at her true brilliance. The Rockets defense sunk its teeth into the senior guard, never giving her enough room to create something off the dribble. Pilot Rock’s Ginni Harrison didn’t have much effect on the home team’s scoring, netting just four points, but left her mark on the game through defense.
Wilson showed his confidence in the senior guard by putting her on an island, left to guard Stangel one-on-one for long stretches. And until the game’s final swing, that was enough.
Enterprise coach Mike Crawford knew better. He’s seen her bursts throughout her career with the Outlaws and it’s hard not to take note. And with Stangel’s scoring, so often the rest of the the team will follow.
“I said, ‘Girls, I’ve seen you score 10 points in 30 seconds. It’s going to happen but it’s got to happen through our patience and movement,” Crawford recalled telling the girls during a mid-fourth quarter timeout when his team was still trailing. “Then all of a sudden it was like, boom. That’s the team I’ve seen and if we play 32 minutes like that, we’re going to smoke somebody.”
When things were rolling for the Rockets, rebounding was there cracking the whip. Pilot Rock grabbed 15 of its 24 first-half boards on the offensive end. That number outweighed Enterprise’s total of 13 — none of which were offensive rebounds.
The Rockets held the rebounding edge from coast to coast and Enterprise managed only nine on the offensive side in the game. Those came at crucial junctures, though.
Stangel tied the game 35-35 with an offensive putback near the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Just a minute earlier, Myranda McFetridge had grabbed her own offensive rebound, dishing the ball to the outside where — you guessed it — Stangel was ready to hit an open 3-pointer.
Pilot Rock’s Britteny Taylor finished with 13 rebounds and Harrison had eight. Maddison Dave grabbed seven and scored 12 big post points in only 17 minutes of game time.
Caitlin Zyph led the Rockets with 13 points, but shot only 30 percent for the game, part of a poor Pilot Rock shooting performance altogether. The team was less than 30 percent in the loss, including just 2-of-16 to start the contest.
Pilot Rock left a lot of early points on the court with those missed shots, but Rockets girls’ basketball as a whole is starting to reach a peak, Taylor said. The team could have moved into a three-way tie for first in the BMC with a victory Saturday, having beaten Heppner 41-31 on Friday in Heppner.
“In my opinion, these are our best two games that we’ve played this season,” Taylor said of the weekend slate. “This is how we want to play. We really came out of our shell this weekend.
“We worked really hard this week because we knew we had two big teams. We knew we could have got that (top conference) spot; we just let it go.”
Enterprise is still holding firm in first place after Saturday’s action with a 9-1 conference record. Heppner (13-2, 8-2 BMC) is a close second and the Rockets are just a game behind in third.
The Blue Mountain Conference will send four teams to the state playoffs following the district tournament over the third weekend of February.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.