PENDLETON — In the final 90 seconds of play on Friday, Pendleton head coach Kevin Porter was jumping up and down on the sidelines as the Buckaroos settled into their defense.
His team held a narrow 53-47 lead, that was once an advantage of over 10 points, but the Bulldogs willed their way back into the game and cut their deficit to only three points with just over a minute on the clock.
Hermiston senior Hannah Thompson converted the and-1 into a three point play to push the score to 53-50 in favor of the Bucks. Thompson had been heating up in the second half, which made Porter and company nervous.
“Their outside shooters got hot, Hannah Thompson, she got hot and I was getting a little nervous there,” Porter said after the game. “But we just kept saying, ‘Next play, next play.’ If they get one there, so what, we’ve got another play coming.”
Make that another five plays for the Bucks, as they pulled away with a 61-52 victory over the Bulldogs at Warberg Court, keeping Pendleton undefeated in conference play.
After the team’s came out of a timeout with 1:04 left on the game clock, Hermiston junior Sydney Stefani tried for a 3-pointer to tie the game. The missed shot fell into the hands of Pendleton senior Kalan McGlothan — who was fouled and banked both free throw attempts to put the Bucks up by two possessions.
The Bulldogs, however, weren’t giving up. Junior Jordan Thomas forced her way inside for a lay-up to cut the deficit to 55-52.
This is when Pendleton needed another big play.
The Bucks (15-6 overall, 6-0 Columbia River Conference) got it from senior Maureen Davies. Davies was fouled hard at half court, and at the charity stripe made her two free throws. On the ensuing play, Davies towered over the Bulldogs for a big-time blocked shot on Thomas that fellow senior Rylee Gentner secured.
To seal the game-winning score, another senior — one of five on the roster — Hallie Porter, knocked down a jumper in front of Pendleton’s bench that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“It’s always great to hear all the competitiveness from all the student crowds, chanting against each other, all of the support that’s behind you is incredible,” Davies said. “It just makes you want to do better and show everyone what our team can do as a whole.”
With the win, the Bucks have all but secured their place atop the league standings. Only three games remain on the regular season schedule, ending with one final matchup against the Bulldogs (8-13, 4-2) in Hermiston.
Pendleton now has the 2-0 edge over their cross-county rival, but at a few points in the game that advantage was threatened.
Both teams traded baskets in the opening quarter, knotting the score at 12-12 after the first eight minutes of play.
Then the Bucks, behind the efforts of leading scorer McGlothan, outscored the Bulldogs 15-4 in the second quarter.
At the break, Porter emphasized the need to stay in the moment even with an 11-point advantage.
“(What) we talked about it in the locker room was, ‘You play these next eight minutes. Don’t worry about the other eight minutes. We’ll work on this eight minutes,’” Kevin Porter said. “(Hermiston) must have had a better halftime speech than I did because they came out and kicked our butt in the third quarter.”
The Bulldogs hit four of their six total 3-pointers in the third quarter, and went on a 17-4 run to pull within one point of the Bucks. It was Hermiston’s first chance claim its only lead of the game, and three plays later it did.
Thompson hit a three to put Hermiston up 38-36 with only 15 seconds before the fourth quarter.
The half time message that worked was less of a message and more of a much needed adjustment.
“It was more of letting them compose themselves,” Hermiston head coach Juan Rodriguez said. “It’s a big game and they were out shooting not within our offense and they were a little unfocused defensively. It was just a matter of refocusing, making sure we were in the right defensive spots and making sure we were in our motion offense, executing.”
The Bulldogs were able to do just that and held the Bucks to single digits for almost the entire third quarter. But as the clock ticked down, Pendleton didn’t hesitate to fire back and senior Hallie Porter answered with a three of her own as the buzzer sounded.
Pendleton only have up its lead once in the final quarter, again behind the efforts of Thompson, but the Bucks went on to play sound, focused offense — hitting all of their 11 free throw attempts — and in the final minutes, aggressive defense.
“We went into the fourth quarter still close, and I said, ‘This is going to come down to this eight minutes,’” Kevin Porter said. “‘Whoever wins this eight minutes is going to walk out of here a winner,’ and we won that last eight minutes.”
The game was capped off with another Hallie Porter 3-pointer — it was her third and final of the night.
Hermiston was led by Thompson, but also received help from senior Maddy Juul — who played her most minutes and best game since returning to the floor from a knee injury that has plagued her final year. Juul hit Hermiston’s first two three’s in the third quarter to help spark its long run.
Stefani ended that run, and hit a three of her own which was the shot that gave the Bulldogs their first lead.
Stefani has been a reliable player off the bench, and put up nine points in Hermiston’s last outing — the second best team performance.
“Everybody who came off the bench did a good job,” Rodriguez said. “(Sydney) came off the bench tonight and gave us a little bit of a spark as well with the scoring.”
Hermiston will hope to rebound from the loss it stays on the road to face The Dalles on Tuesday. Pendleton will have one final home game before making the two-game away trip to close out the season. The Bucks will welcome Hood River Valley on Tuesday.
HHS 12 4 22 14 — 52
PHS 12 15 12 22 — 61
HERMISTON — H. Thompson 22, J. Thomas 10, J. Romero 7, M. Juul 6, J. Ray 4, S. Stefani 3.
PENDLETON — K. McGlothan 18, H. Porter 13, J. Lemberger 9, M. Davies 9, R. Genter 5, J. Wilson 3, H. Kiele 2, E. Cadadei 2.
3-pointers — HHS 6, PHS 6. Free throws — HHS 5-6, PHS 17-25.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.