HERMISTON — If you ask the Hermiston boys basketball team about the losing skid that started late December and chased them into the new year, they just brush it off.
For all intents and purposes, the Bulldogs came into Friday’s game with a clean slate — an 0-0 record as they began Columbia River Conference play with a simple message.
“The message was, you can’t worry about the past,” head coach Casey Arstein said. “We know we lost some games we should have won but at the same time I thought even games we lost we prepared for, got a little bit better and we’ve played good competition and that’s huge going into league.”
Hermiston hosted The Dalles on Friday for the first of a nine-game league schedule, and drew away for a 78-61 victory.
It was the most points the Bulldogs (6-9 overall, 1-0 CRC) have scored all season, and their aggressiveness on offense showed in the opening quarter.
They came out with a 25-19 lead over the Riverhawks (8-7, 0-1) behind eight early points from junior Adrian Mendez. Mendez finished with 18 points on the night.
Hermiston’s press forced The Dalles to commit six turnovers in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs moved well in transition, passing along the perimeter before finding Mendez under the basket for an easy lay-in.
“When you play with energy and emotion, good things happen,” Arstein said. “I thought the boys shared the ball pretty well. We weren’t shooting it like we did against La Grande (on Tuesday) but we hit some outside shoots, opened up and Adrian did a good job spacing inside and guys were looking for him.”
Hermiston extended its lead to as many as 18 points before the half. After going on a 13-4 run to push the score to 41-23 and force a Dalles’ timeout, the Riverhawks looked to their bench and their top scorer, junior Josh Nisbet, to cut their deficit to only 11.
Nisbet continued to find good looks on offense and hit three of his four 3-pointers in the third quarter to keep The Dalles’ chances alive.
After hitting the back-to-back threes with a little over three minutes left in the third, he brought the Riverhawks within five — their narrowest margin of the night.
But just as quickly as The Dalles caught up to Hermiston, the Riverhawks fell back into a hole they wouldn’t be able to get themselves out of.
“I knew (The Dalles) would make a run but we made it a little bit too easy for them there,” Arstein said. “But I thought they kids responded well — not every quarter you’re going to win, so we’ve got to find ways to capitalize when we can.”
Hermiston was able to do that in the fourth. The Bulldogs were beating the Riverhawks to the ball on their missed free throw attempts and went on a 13-7 run to keep the scoreboard in Hermiston’s favor.
Ortiz led the team with 20 points. Following Ortiz and Mendez was senior Cole Smith with 12 and sophomore Andrew Earl with 10.
The Bulldogs will have a week off before hitting the road to face Hood River Valley at 7 p.m. Friday.
DHS 19 11 19 12 — 61
HHS 25 16 15 22 — 78
THE DALLES — J. Nisbet 22, D. Murr 12, J. Hernandez 10, H. Lee 7, O. Fernandez 6, J. Bonham 2, D. Seufalemua 2.
HERMISTON — C. Ortiz 20, A. Mendez 18, C. Smith 12, A. Earl 10, R. Andreason 8, A. James 4, B. Davis 2, T. McCullough 2.
3-pointers — DHS 9, HHS 10. Free throws — DHS 10-12, HHS 8-16. Fouls — DHS 17, HHS 13.