The last time the Pendleton girls’ basketball team played Baker, it was the second game of the season, the Bucks turned the ball over 34 times and the Bulldogs nearly pulled off the upset.
What a difference a month makes.
The ball stuck to the Bucks’ hands like it was surgically secured and Pendleton (5-6) won big, 59-29, Tuesday at Warberg Court. The home team had a season-low eight turnovers.
“When we were in the (Nike Interstate Shootout) tournament, that really helped us out because there were some good teams there and we had to take care of the ball,” said Brittany Gregerson, point guard for the girls in green. Pendleton went 1-3 at the tournament last week.
Ball control was a the epicenter of everything that worked for Pendleton on Tuesday. By not turning the ball over, the Bucks controlled the pace of the game and could wait for their shots. They positioned better for rebounds. They shifted the pressure all onto the shoulders of Baker (2-7), because when the away team got the ball, they needed to score on every possession.
In the first half, as Pendleton manufactured a 33-13 lead, the Bulldogs attempted fewer shots than Pendleton made from the field.
Pendleton also won the battle inside the key. Some of that was rebounds, but the inside presence of Courtney Schumacher-Sweek — who has had to step up since starting post player Shelby Sanders went down with an ankle injury — turned into 14 easy points for the senior.
“I think with that tournament that everybody’s talking about, we played against a lot bigger teams, teams with two or three girls over 6-foot,” Schumacher-Sweek said. “I think that strengthened our post and made us see a little better.”
Pendleton was up a heavy 26 points heading into the fourth quarter which gave coach Aaron Schmidt some time to get his younger girls into the game. Some of the most exciting moments of the contest occurred with the starters out of the game — or at least Pendleton’s bench would have you think.
Though they scored just three points in the final 4:30 minutes, the freshly seated starters yelled and cheered and nearly went ballistic with encouragement anytime a Buck touched the ball.
“We like to be enthusiastic,” Gregerson said with a giggle. “I know personally I like it when people cheer and I know our team does. I think it pumps us up and makes us play better.”
Playing better is the optimal goal for the Bucks heading forward, coach Schmidt said, but they might need more than hand claps and fist pumps from the fans to do that. The team starts Columbia River Conference play on Friday with The Dalles Wahtonka (7-4).
“The Dalles is a really improved team ... and it will be interesting to see how we match up with them,” Schmidt said. “We’ll have to play well but I think if we take care of the ball like we did (Tuesday) we have a chance to get it done.”
Tip-off of that game is at 7 p.m in Pendleton.