PENDLETON — There’s a reason Pilot Rock entered the Columbia Basin Conference district championship perfect in league play, and it has everything to do with the Rockets’ four seniors.
Riley Lankford, Chris Weinkie, Levi Thieme and Bryson Pierce have been at the heart of the team’s success this season. But their efforts haven’t always produced long win streaks or undefeated records.
The group of four struggled to find their footing on the court when they first put on the white, blue and yellow uniforms and had to work through plenty of tough moments as head coach Eric Smidt recalls.
“Those guys have hung with me,” he said. “They have gone through the crappy practices, rebounding and running the floor and doing the sprints every day, and they really came out and they earned it.”
The seniors put together 47 of the team’s total points in the 56-41 victory over Stanfield on Saturday afternoon in the Pendleton Convention Center.
For Pilot Rock’s top scorer, Pierce, the crowning achievement of being the CBC’s newest district champions was well worth the years of work.
“All our hard work has paid off,” Pierce said. “From not being very good our freshman and sophomore year, it’s nice being the best team in the league for once.”
In previous Stanfield-Pilot Rock matchups, the Rockets’ margin of victory was at least 22 points and at most 29.
But this time, the Tigers (12-15 overall, 3-5 CBC) stayed with the Rockets (18-6, 8-0) until their athleticism and level of play was too much for Stanfield to keep up with.
Pilot Rock maintained the early lead it built in the first quarter throughout the entire game, but the Tigers would remain within striking distance until the third quarter.
A couple of opening 3-pointers and a short 5-0 run from Stanfield at the end of the first quarter cut its deficit two only two possessions.
Sloppy play in the second quarter led to a low scoring affair on both sides before the break. The Rockets stayed in control and were up 24-19.
The teams combined for 25 turnovers in the first half, and were only shooting, at best, 29 percent from the field. The Tigers had better looks at the basket than the Rockets throughout the first two quarters — shooting 7-of-24 and knocking down three of their five three-point attempts. Their 29 percent exceeded the Rockets’ efforts, which fell to only 25 percent.
All either team needed was a big play, and for Pilot Rock that is just what it got.
“The big play and the big player that set us apart this game was Logan Weinke, (who) decided to shoot the ball in that third quarter,” Smidt said.
In the third quarter, the Rockets outscored the Tigers 17-3 and with the help of Logan Weinke, who was able to spread Stanfield’s defense out with his 4-for-6 second half shooting, Pilot Rock was able to ride out its lead.
But the efforts of Stanfield cannot go unnoticed. The Tigers were the clear underdog, but managed to hang with the best in ways they couldn’t earlier in the year.
For head coach David Bailey, the game showed the teams growth and maturity.
“We have played them three times this year and they killed us the first three times,” he said, “but to come out and play that tough half and only be down by five at half — they were down on themselves and they were only down by five against a team that had been up on us by 20.”
Helping Stanfield stay in the game was senior Brody Woods, who finished with a team-best 12 points and a double-double after collecting 12 rebounds. Elias Esquivel chipped in 10.
Leading Pilot Rock was Pierce with 19 points, and a double-double of his own after grabbing 10 boards. Chris Weinke added 12 points, and both Lankford and Thieme notched eight.
Brett Speed, Weston-McEwen, sr.; Bryson Pierce, Pilot Rock, sr.; Brody Woods, Stanfield, sr.; Trent Smit, Heppner, sr.; Chris Wienke, Pilot Rock, sr.
Kevin Smith, Heppner, sr.; Weston Basl, Culver, sr.; Levi Thieme, Pilot Rock, sr.; Elias Esquivel, Stanfield, jr.; Kevin Rodriguez, Weston-McEwen, sr.; Wyatt Steagal, Heppner, sr.
Andrew Gambill, Weston-McEwen, jr.; Matt Krueger, Culver, sr.; Riley Lankford, Pilot Rock, sr.; Jacob Speed, Weston-McEwen, sr.; Eduardo Nunez, Stanfield, jr.
SHS 11 8 3 19 — 41
PR 15 9 17 15 — 56
STANFIELD — B. Woods 14, E. Esquivel 10, H. Hernandez 9, B. Bailey 4, F. Ramirez 3, M. Sanchez 1.
PILOT ROCK — B. Pierce 19, C. Weinke 12, L. Weinke 9, R. Lankford 8, L. Thieme 8.
3-pointers — SHS 4, PR 3. Free throws — SHS 3-6, PR 15-26. Fouls — SHS 16 (Woods foulded out), PR 12.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.