STANFIELD — Speed kills — or so say public service announcements championing safe driving or warning of the dangers of drugs. But for the Pilot Rock boys’ basketball team, speed creates.
The Rockets caught Stanfield napping far too many times in Tuesday’s Blue Mountain Conference game, exploiting moments of weakness to craft a 17-1 run that helped them race to a 68-52 victory.
After Pilot Rock (8-3, 11-2 BMC) owned the lead for all but slim seconds of the first two quarters, Stanfield tied the game 31-31 with a Bryce Linker basket with under three minutes to play in the half. But before the ball had dropped the 10 feet from rim to floor, the Rockets were already speeding up the court for the next play. Guard Tyler Simmons took the inbounds and side-armed a pass to a streaking Barkley who laid the ball in for the easy two points.
After the Tigers (15-4, 8-4 BMC) answered with a score on their next possession, Pilot Rock really put down the throttle. An 11-2 run by Stanfield that had brought the home team back into the game was nearly matched by the Rockets, who tore into halftime with the 40-33 lead.
The brief cool down did little to put the breaks on Pilot Rock. The Rockets coupled their 9-2 second-quarter run with a 10-1 stretch to open the third. What was once a race of inches quickly became one team lapping the other.
“I think we got into our transition game and made some better decisions with the ball,” Pilot Rock coach Doug Baxter said. “We haven’t been making very good decisions 1-on-3 or 2-on-4 and there were a couple possessions there where we did a really good job of converting and getting guys out into space.”
That’s been a key for this year’s Rockets, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 2A according to the OSAA, said Simmons. These players have a much different mindset than the group that made the state playoffs last year.
“Last year we didn’t play as a team at all. We were always selfish, wanting to shoot the ball. And we’d shoot when we wanted to shoot,” said Simmons, the benefactor of many of Barkley’s seven assists and the provider of four of his own. “(This year) we’ve got smarter players.”
Simmons finished with 18 points, one off of Barkley’s game high. CeeJay Medellin grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his eight points.
When the Tigers could finally put the clamp on Pilot Rock’s mid-game run, they would make attempts cut into the 16-point deficit. Though bringing it down to single digits on three occasions, Stanfield could never get closer than eight points.
Bryce Linker scored 12 points to lead the Tigers and Michael Martinez had eight points and seven rebounds in just 13 minutes of game time. Stanfield dished out six assists as a team, eight fewer than the Rockets.
The victory tightens the Rocket’s hold on the No. 2 spot in the Blue Mountain standings, a game behind top dog Irrigon. The situation for Stanfield, the OSAA’s No. 4 squad, is far more muddled now.
The Tigers fell to 8-4 in league play and drop to a tie for fourth in the conference when coupled with a win by Weston-McEwen (14-7, 9-4 BMC) on Tuesday. Grant Union (9-8, 8-4 BMC) is the other team in the No. 4 spot. With just three or four games remaining in the regular season for most teams, all three are locks to make the five-school district tournament.
But there’s plenty of jockeying for position left to do. The Tigers have games remaining against the Irrigon, Grant Union and Weston-McEwen still on its slate, starting with No. 1 Irrigon on the road Friday. Pilot Rock starts with the TigerScots Friday before also meeting Irrigon once more this season.
“It’s already a playoff atmosphere,” Simmons said. “Big time.”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.