ATHENA — After allowing 41 first-half Irrigon points and trailing by 16 going into the break, Weston-McEwen needed a change. It came in the first few minutes of the third when the TigerScots left it all out on the court — maybe literally.
Following a 15-4 run, the first nine points all for the TigerScots, Weston-McEwen would pull to within five at 45-40. But Irrigon’s speed and talent made it impossible for the home team to continue at that torrid pace as the Knights turned things around in a hurry, racing for the finish line and a 69-50 victory on Saturday.
“We ran out of gas a little bit there,” TigerScots coach Brian Pickard said of Irrigon’s lash back. “We had to spend so much energy getting back into it.”
Irrigon did its early damage with team defense. The Knights forced 10 turnovers in the opening quarter, including four steals while, taking the early lead.
The transition baskets came quick and easy after the turnovers forced by Irrigon. The Knights dished out five of their 12 assists in the quarter, hitting dashing players in stride toward the opponent’s basket.
The undefeated Knights, whom the OSAA ranks first in Class 2A boys’ basketball, have been doing that all season, said sophomore guard Adrian Romero.
“We play like brothers. Every day we push each other and play together through the good and the bad,” said Romero, who put up a balanced game line of 13 points, eight rebounds, four steals and two assists.
But the TigerScots (14-9, 9-6 BMC) weren’t standing by in awe of Irrigon. Weston-McEwen’s Nick Pease was crashing the boards like a hockey player and Tyler Peterson’s quick layups were keeping the TigerScots close in the first quarter. It was just a four-point game after one behind Peterson’s eight points and Pease’s eight rebounds.
Irrigon pulled out of its zone defensive scheme at halftime to try and put pressure on the TigerScots’ duo. It worked — in that Peterson would score only four second-half points and none in the fourth quarter to finish at 18. But while his shots were no longer propelling the Athena boys, his teammates started to get hot.
And that’s when Weston-McEwen made its third quarter run, pulling close enough to excite the home crowd that had been nearly elbowed out by the well-traveled Irrigon faithful.
Irrigon’s shots stopped falling, the Knights turned the ball over seven times in the third quarter and Weston-McEwen’s rebound grabbers continued their exemplary work.
“There’s three things that are going to keep you in every game: defense, rebounding and turnovers,” Irrigon coach Jake McElligott said. “And right now the rebounding and the turnovers are getting us. If you lose those two battles, the margin of victory becomes that much smaller, especially headed into the postseason.”
Weston-McEwen out-rebounded Irrigon 40-37, but outside of the third-quarter stretch that McElligott was worried about, the Knights did much better on the turnover front. The TigerScots had nine more of those.
Rebounding will be a focus for Weston-McEwen as well in its final game of the regular season, next weekend at home against Stanfield, and beyond. For the team to get much farther than the first round of the Blue Mountain’s district tournament, which its in place to do currently sitting in fourth in the conference, Weston-McEwen needs its top rebounder, Nick Pease, to step up.
The TigerScots’ big man, who went for eight points and 13 boards on Saturday, can only be effective when he is on the court. And too often he’s not because of foul trouble. He picked up four against the Knights, and sat large chunks of the second half when Irrigon made its move for the large lead.
“When he can be on the floor and control the boards — which he does whenever he’s on the floor — it gives us the opportunity to run, use our athletes and our speed to get out and get some easy baskets,” Pickard said. “We’re a different team when he’s on the floor and we’ve got to figure out a way to keep him on the floor.”
Irrigon gets two more games before tournament time, starting with Pilot Rock on Friday. The Rockets are in second in the BMC, a game and a half back of the Knights. Irrigon took the first match of the year in this series 68-64 in overtime, their closest contest of the season.
Against Weston-McEwen, the Knights had a well-rounded scoring attack. Five boys scored nine points or more, led by Osvaldo Macias' 14.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.