HERMISTON — It was a homecoming of sorts for the Hermiston boys basketball team Friday.
The Bulldogs had not played a game in the Dawg House since Dec. 12, because of their extensive travel schedule and cancellations due to inclement weather.
With the return home came an outcome that was less than favorable.
Hermiston entered the matchup with the Class 6A Metro League Sunset Apollos losing four of its last five games — which includes three consecutive losses — and after a 76-61 loss at the hands of the Apollos, Hermiston’s skid increases to four straight losses.
“I wasn’t disappointed in the effort,” head coach Casey Arstein said. “I know kids played hard, a lot better than what I saw on the road the last few games, I’m just disappointed in the loss at home.”
With the home court advantage, the Bulldogs battled back in the first half to overcome a small deficit.
Sunset had a narrow lead after the first quarter and was up 19-15. Hermiston answered with a 22-point second-quarter performance that put the Bulldogs (4-8) up 37-32 going into halftime.
The Apollos (5-9) shot well all night long, and started the game hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter — Sunset finished with six total three’s on the night.
Sunset was going to stretch its lead to 19-12 after the first eight minutes of play, but Hermiston junior Cesar Ortiz knocked down his first three of the night to cut the deficit to only two possessions — Ortiz was responsible for all three of the team’s shots from behind the arc.
In a game of runs, Sunset took back the lead at the start of the second quarter, but again Ortiz hit a 3-pointer off the corner to knot the score at 24 points apiece.
The crowd quickly fell silent as sophomore Braeden Sato traded three’s with Ortiz. Sato finished with a game-high 25 points for Sunset.
But yet again, Ortiz’s three is good and after one more lead change, the Bulldogs managed to hold on to the five point lead at the break.
Hermiston held on to that advantage for more than half of the third quarter, and were up by as many as eight points. But Sunset began chipping away at its deficit, caught up and then passed the Bulldogs to enter the fourth quarter up 51-50.
“Things were going a little smooth there,” Arstein said of the third-quarter performance. “We were kind of getting anything we wanted on offense as long as we took care of the ball, and then Jordan (Ramirez) goes out and then (we) pick up some stupid fouls — they go to the free throw line, they back door us a couple of times, (it’s) a game of runs and they definitely had more runs in the second half.”
Ramirez’s hit the bench bothered by a hamstring injury, and with it Hermiston’s first chance in three weeks at a picking up a win — its last was on Dec. 22.
“I thought it kind of hurt us momentum wise when Jordan went out,” Arstein said. “(We weren’t) taking care of the ball, it kind of went down hill when Jordan went out.”
Despite the loss, Arstein saw some things he liked. One was the effort of junior Adrian Mendez.
Mendez played a key roll in Hermiston’s comeback attempt at the end, as he scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.
Mendez single handily kept the Bulldogs in the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
During Sunset’s 10-6 run to extend its lead to 61-56, he scored all six of Hermiston’s points.
“Guys did a great job of looking for him,” Arstein said. “He’s not very big but he knows how to space the floor and that’s the reason why he starts for us. He knows spacing, he’s smart, (has got) good hands and I thought the guys did a great job of finding him, and he’s catching and finishing.”
However, staying within just a couple of possessions of the Apollos was short lived, as they began to run away with the lead — sparked by a questionable technical foul called on junior Ryne Andreason.
The Hermiston coaches were in agreement that the tech was a call that would have been made 10 years ago, but not tonight. When Andreason chased down Sato after he stole the ball away from the Bulldogs, Andreason jumped up for the block. As he was going through the motions of blocking a shot, his hand slapped glass which turned Sato’s lay in into a four-point play.
“(It was) a momentum changer,” Arstein said. “Refs are refs, nothing against them (but) I just thought it was an interesting call — very interesting call.”
After, Sunset went on its last run of the night to cement the final score.
Hermiston will have a quick turnaround and travel to La Grande on Saturday. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 p.m.
SHS 19 13 19 25 — 76
HHS 15 22 13 11 — 61
SUNSET — B. Sato 25, N. Cizik 17, C. King 8, W. Reese 8, C. Newsom 8, A. Holst 5, E. Tubby 3 S. Muhlheim 2.
HERMISTON — A. Mendez 22, C. Ortiz 14, R. Andreason 11, A. Earl 6, A. James 3, J. Ramirez 3, T. McCullough 2.
3-pointers — SHS 6, HSH 3. Free throws — SHS 16-18, HSH 14-22. Fouls — SHS 18, HSH 21 (James fouled out).
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.