PENDLETON — The Oregon Trail Classic is a tournament for hopefuls.
First initiated in the late 1990s, the basketball tournament gave a few select Class 2A teams that hoped to be in the title fight a the end of the season a chance to see each other. Schools would travel from the far off reaches of the state to Pendleton for a non-conference tournament just before the New Year.
That foundation has shifted slightly in recent years, added Crawford, whose school is responsible for putting the tournament on each year. Because of shrinking school budgets and inflating travel costs, fewer schools are willing to make the trip to the East side when other tournament action is within closer reach.
The club opened up to not just 2A schools, but other tough competition for the few 2A’s to sharpen their chops. Last season it was 4A La Grande coming to town. This weekend, when tournament action kicks off Friday at 4 p.m., the Outlaw girls will take on Baker, another 4A squad. Only half of the four teams in town are of the 2A ranks this time around with Enterprise and the first-year 2A program Grant Union.
Scio will also compete along with the Bulldogs from higher classes. The Loggers moved up a class from 2A this season. The Scio girls lost in the state title game last March in Pendleton.
Scio, located between Salem and Corvallis, but off of Interstate 5, is the team coming to Pendleton from farthest away. Local teams like Weston-McEwen have attended the tournament in the past but Baker’s trip of nearly 100 miles to the convention center is the shortest this year.
The competition may be different — and in the boys’ case drastically so with only three teams in the bracket instead of four — but the ideals are still the same. It’s a symbolic step toward a state championship and a chance to get acquainted with the Pendleton Convention Center’s unique playing surface.
The basketball court previously supported the bouncing balls of the Phoenix Suns NBA team before coming to Pendleton. The court still holds the NBA regulated dimensions of 94 feet long by 50 feet wide. High school courts are only 84 feet long.
The 3-point line is what sometimes causes the most confusion. An NBA 3-pointer comes from a whole four feet farther away than at the high school level.
“You’ve still got the old NBA line in there and the high school line in there,” Crawford said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids out there stepping up to that NBA line.”
Crawford’s quite familiar with the Pendleton court. Now in his 24th season with the Outlaws, the coach has nearly a dozen tournament trips under his belt and a pair of state titles. His team is off to an undefeated start at 9-0 this season.
His girls could face off with Scio should the Loggers down the Pros in the second game of the evening Friday. Scio knocked Enterprise off the state title track in each of the past two seasons in the quarterfinals, the first game at the tournament's final site.
Basketball action continues Saturday as well in this two-day tournament.
On the boys’ side, Grant Union will play a non-conference game against Enterprise, its Blue Mountain Conference league-mate, on Thursday night before the two teams meet up with Scio in Pendleton on Friday and Saturday. The extra game Thursday allows for all three teams to play a pair of contests overall.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839.