MISSION — For the first three quarters on Friday night, the Nixyaawii Golden Eagles couldn’t miss a shot, hitting on 60 percent of their attempts.
That success gave the Golden Eagles a 54-46 lead heading into the final eight minutes against the red-hot Umatilla Vikings. But in that final quarter, Nixyaawii suddenly went ice cold. Close-range lay-ins didn’t fall in, and wide-open looks always rimmed out. The Golden Eagles were 0 for their first nine from the floor, which allowed the Umatilla Vikings to come back and steal a 61-57 win.
“We had some good looks but I think our youth and some fatigue we just came up a little bit short,” Nixyaawii coach Shane Rivera said. “We had about three or four shots that probably go in most days, and would’ve made a big difference in the game I think.”
The Golden Eagles (7-2) led for the entire third quarter and most of the fourth quarter until Umatilla’s Seth Cranston swished a mid-range jumper from the left baseline to put the Vikings on top 55-54 with just two minutes left to play. It was the first lead for the Vikings (9-1) since a 28-27 advantage at the 1:10 mark of the second quarter.
“It was a relief,” Cranston recalled of his go-ahead shot. “We feel like we should’ve done a lot better than we did, but I’m glad we were able to scratch it out. We had to come together and pull our heads out of our butts after that first half.”
Cranston was a clutch performer for the Vikings in the game, leading the team with 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting with five rebounds, three assists and three steals. He utilized his quickness on several occasions to dribble around defenders and drive towards the basket for easy close-range shots, which made up the bulk of his attempts. Cranston played a lot of minutes on last year’s team, but was known more for his defense than a scoring ability, something that Umatilla coach Scott Bow has had to pry out of his senior wing this season.
“He’s a motor, man,” Umatilla coach Scott Bow said of Cranston. “His ability to keep going is special. He didn’t want to be a scorer (tonight), he wanted to play good defense and I told him I’m not going to play him in the second half if he’s not going to step up and shoot the shots your supposed to shoot ... He came in the second half and decided to take the shots and he did it really well.”
The Vikings got the best start of the two teams and held an early 9-3 lead before Nixyaawii settled in and tied the game up at 14-14 at the end of the first quarter. The Golden Eagles stayed hot shooting the ball in the second half to take a 34-28 lead at the break after missing on four of their 13 shot attempts. It was a frustrating game at that point for Bow and his Vikings, as they played solid defensively, but they couldn’t shut them down.
“Any time we would start to chip away, they would seem to hit a shot or two and kept it going, so we have to give it up to them,” Bow said of Nixyaawii.
And after the Vikings still couldn’t chip away in the third quarter, Bow challenged his group to give every last ounce they had if they wanted to add another ‘W’ to the schedule. And they did, as the defense did enough to keep Nixyaawii scoreless in the fourth quarter until Tyasin Burns nailed a 3-pointer at the final buzzer with the game out of reach.
“I told the kids we have to score more than 54 to win so it’s got to come down on defense,” Bow said. “So it was nice that with three seconds left on the clock and they were still at 54 ... To give up only those three points at the buzzer an that’s it in the fourth quarter talks about the defense we’ve played all year right there, being able to step up and do what they need to do to win.”
Umatilla finished with four players in double figures including Cranston, followed by Trent Durfey with 15 points, Kaden Webb with 12 points, and Uriel Garcia with 11 points. Durfey led the team with eight rebounds and Garcia had six, while Webb led with five assists.
While the loss stings for the Golden Eagles, Rivera said that he is proud of the way his team played against the Vikings.
“We were right there,” Rivera said. “Umatilla’s a good team, they play physical, they’re strong and it was a good test for us. It was one of those games where you hate to lose, but you’re glad to get to play them because it’s a good test for the team and it’ll help us in the long run.”
Mick Schimmel led the Golden Eagles with 20 points, Quana Picard had 14 points and Burns finished with eight.
UHS 14 14 18 15 — 61
NCS 14 20 20 3 — 57
UMATILLA — S. Cranston 17, T. Durfey 15, K. Webb 12, U. Garcia 11, S. Garcia 4, C. DeLoera 2.
NIXYAAWII — M. Schimmel 20, Q. Picard 14, T. Burns 8, Ma. Moses 6, D. Barkley 5, D. Sigo 2, N. Enright 2.
3-pointers — UHS 6, NCS 6. Free throws — UHS 10-13. Fouls — UHS 7, NCS 13.
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.