IRRIGON — Leading up to league play, the Irrigon Knights had a near perfect record. They opened the season with a seven-game win streak and lost only one game in 2017 — a matchup with the Class 4A La Grande Tigers.
With the new year came a new record and their then-11-1 rap sheet didn’t mean much entering play in the Eastern Oregon League (EOL).
Irrigon had dropped its league opener, a 37-24 loss to Vale, where the Knights’ defense was sound but the offense struggled to keep up.
However, Wednesday night back at their home court, the Knights found their rhythm both offensively and defensively to top Riverside 33-29.
“That was a big win for us because Riverside has been playing pretty good,” head coach Mike Royer said, “and we knew they were going to be tough.”
The Pirates (11-4 overall, 0-2 EOL) were coming off a league opening loss of their own, and the short 11 mile trip from Boardman gave them a chance to bounce back.
At first, Riverside came out with vengeance and scored 16 of its 29 point in the opening quarter. A couple of 3-pointers from junior Brendy Avalos and senior Skylar Wightman — who finished with a team-high seven points — and good looks in field goal range for junior Faith Rosen put the Pirates up 16-15 after eight minutes of play.
The Knights (12-2, 1-1), however, made their adjustments and it was off to the races.
“I thought defensively we played really well,” Royer said. “We gave them a couple of open looks in the first quarter and they hit them, and I think we did a good job of adjusting and playing really good defense for three quarters because they didn’t get much of anything easy.”
Despite a low scoring second quarter for both teams, Irrigon came out of the break with new energy and added 10 points to the board — all of which were from the team’s top shooter senior Jada Burns.
Riverside was close to matching Irrigon’s output, and cut its deficit to only four points, 30-26, going into the final quarter.
With just over five minutes to go in the third, Wightman hit a jumper to knot the score at 22 points apiece.
Irrigon, or rather Burns, answered with back-to-back three’s to separate the two teams once again.
As time was ticking down in the fourth quarter, it was going to be up to Burns once again.
The Knights pushed their lead to 32-27 before Wightman stepped to the free throw line for a one-and-one. A violation on the Knights negated Wightman’s first shot and she got another chance at the charity stripe.
Wightman hit the first one and the second shot fell shortly after to put Riverside within three.
At the timeout, Royer’s game plan was simple.
“We were just going to match up and go man-to-man and switch any screen and just make sure they couldn’t get an easy three,” he said.
But there was no need as just seconds later Burns was fouled and hit one of her two free throws to put Irrigon up two possessions.
The Knights will have a quick turnaround and travel to Umatilla on Friday, while Riverside will have a chance to shake of the two consecutive league losses before it returns to the court Tuesday, hosting Stanfield.
A road win in the EOL is a big one. The trip is usually a few hours, making the time away from school and the long bus ride home tough if the score isn’t to your advantage.
That wasn’t the case for Irrigon, which opened league play Saturday with a big 54-35 win over Vale.
The Knights came back home and used that momentum to hand Riverside a 56-50 defeat.
The two boys teams played in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, and like the first the opening quarter was truly a battle for the entire eight minutes.
“(Riverside) took this opportunity and came out and played us really hard,” head coach Davie Salas said. “We were a little sloppy, to be honest ... we tried to play at a fast tempo like we usually do and we were just really sloppy and kind of careless with the ball.”
Despite some of the careless ball handling and mistakes made in their usually flawless high-paced offense, the Knights (13-0 overall, 2-0 EOL) came out on top with a 20-15 lead — it was a lead they would never relinquish.
The Pirates (7-8, 0-2) were close to catching the streaking Knights.
After a lackluster second quarter, Riverside narrowed Irrigon’s margin to 39-36 with only seconds left in the third.
“You can’t overlook any team,” Salas said. “Every team is going to give you their best.”
Senior Mason Hegar knocked down two free throws to add to his eventual team-best 13 points, and put the Pirates in one possession of matching the Knights.
If it came down to a 3-pointer, Riverside wouldn’t have batted an eye. The Pirates knocked down eight total shots from behind the arc.
But it was a Knight who would hit a three at the buzzer to extend their lead.
Senior Adrian Roa snatched the ball away from Riverside at half court, took a few steps and hit an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Irrigon up 42-36.
The Pirates gave a resounding effort in the fourth quarter but the Knights weren’t going to let this one slip away, especially with senior Johnny Phillips dominating the paint.
Phillips recorded a game-high 27 points, 20 of which were in the second half, and led his team to their second straight league win.
The boys will follow the girls to Umatilla to face the Vikings at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Riverside will take the court again in Boardman on Tuesday against Stanfield.
RHS 16 2 8 3 — 29
IHS 15 5 10 3 — 33
RIVERSIDE — S. Wightman 7, F. Rosen 6, M. Hegar 4, A. Hernandez 3, Br. Avalos 3, Bi. Avalos 2, A. Caldera 2.
IRRIGON — J. Burns 13, N. Romero 9, B. Rice 7, A. Zacarias 2, O. Luna 2.
3-pointers — RHS 2, IHS 5. Free throws — RHS 3-8, IHS 6-11. Fouls — RHS 14, IHS 13.
RHS 15 6 15 14 — 50
IHS 20 5 17 14 — 56
RIVERSIDE — M. Hegar 13, F. Aparicio 10, J. Pena 9, F. Chavez 9, M. Madrigal 6, C. Rea 3.
IRRIGON — J. Phillips 27, E. Carrillo 11, K. Flemming 6, D. Vera 4, J. Sandoval 3, A. Roa 3, L. Covarrubia 2.
3-pointers — RHS 8, IHS 5. Free throws — RHS 6-10, IHS 3-9. Fouls — RHS 10, IHS 10.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.