PENDLETON — On Thursday, the Heppner Mustangs will be playing in the Class 2A state tournament for the first time since 2013 and they won’t have to wait long to get onto the court.
The Mustangs’ quarterfinal game with No. 1 Kennedy opens up the 2018 girls tournament at 1:30 p.m. at Pendleton High School, while the boys quarterfinal action gets started at 1:30 p.m. at the Pendleton Convention Center with No. 1 Western Mennonite and No. 8 Grant Union.
The No. 1 Trojans present a tough challenge for the No. 8 Mustangs. The Trojans have been a 2A powerhouse in the last four year with a combined 90-24 overall record while capturing the 2016 state championship.
They come into Pendleton 26-1 overall and have won 21 straight games, but the Mustangs will not be scared. The Columbia Basin Conference district champion Mustangs are coming off of an upset victory of Weston-McEwen and a hard-fought win over Central Linn last week.
The girls quarterfinal round games will all be played at Pendleton High School on Thursday.
NO. 4 GRANT UNION (21-3) vs. NO. 5 FAITH BIBLE (25-2), 3:15 p.m. — This quarterfinal matchup features two teams that have not lost in a very long time. Grant Union’s last loss came on Jan. 6 in a 52-49 defeat from Lakeview, while Faith Bible (25-2) has not lost in 2018.
Grant Union, the Wapiti League champions, boasts an offensive capable of lighting up the scoreboard, where it averages 57.3 points per game and has scored 80 points or more four times. Faith Bible, the Northwest League champs, average 48.3 points per game but have a tough defense that holds teams to 27.8 points per game.
NO. 3 OAKLAND (26-2) vs. NO. 6 ST. PAUL (22-5), 6:30 p.m. — On paper, the Oakland Oakers and St. Paul Buckaroos are very similar teams.
Both teams average roughly the same points per game of offense — Oakland at 48.2 and St. Paul 46.9 — and defense — 27.0 and 27.9 respectively. Which could make for a highly-entertaining game. Oakland won the Mountain View Conference and its only two losses of the season both came at the hands of No. 2 Monroe by a combined 10 points, though the Oakers got their revenge in the district championship with a 47-41 win over Monroe.
St. Paul finished second to No. 1 Kennedy in the Tri-River Conference.
NO. 2 MONROE (24-3) vs. NO. 7 GOLD BEACH (18-6), 8:15 p.m. — The defending state champion Monroe Dragons will conclude the first night of the tournament at PHS, facing a Gold Beach team making its first-ever trip to the 2A state tournament.
The Dragons won the Mountain View Conference regular season title before falling to No. 3 Oakland in the district championship 12 days ago. They’ve scored the most points in Class 2A this season (1,525) and returned all but one major contributor from last year’s state championship team.
Gold Beach dropped to the 2A classification prior to the 2010-11 season and have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since. The Panthers were Sunset Conference champions this season.
The boys quarterfinal action will take place at the Pendleton Convention Center.
NO. 1 WESTERN MENNONITE (24-3) vs. NO. 8 GRANT UNION (18-6), 1:30 p.m. — The Western Mennonite Pioneers stroll into Pendleton looking like the state championship favorites this year thanks to a fast-paced and highly potent offense. The Pioneers have scored the most points in the state (2,038) and average more than 75 per game. They have also topped the 100-point mark three times, most recently last week’s first round 100-33 win over Stanfield.
But Grant Union will give them a run on Thursday for sure. The Prospectors have a talented, lengthy lineup that can also run an offense and defense to match the Pioneers’ pace. The Wapiti League champions also knocked off defending state champion Santiam in the first round last week.
NO. 4 TOLEDO (20-6) vs. OAKLAND (24-3), 3:15 p.m. — Two league champions will face off Thursday afternoon, hoping to get one step closer to playing for a state championship.
The Oakland Oakers won the Mountain View Conference title, and are making their first appearance in the state tournament since 2014 when they lost to Irrigon in the championship game. The Oakers’ offense averages 62.2 points per game and they have height inside with a pair of 6-foot-5 forwards and a 6-foot-4 wing.
The Toledo Bombers began the season with a 4-6 record, which included a pair of losses to No. 1 Western Mennonite. However, the Bombers have rolled off 16 consecutive wins since Dec. 21 to claim the Sunset Conference championship and reach the state tournament.
NO. 3 KNAPPA (23-4) vs. NO. 11 VERNONIA (19-8), 6:30 p.m. — The first evening game will feature a pair of league rivals with the Knappa Loggers and the Vernonia Loggers.
Knappa had the upper hand on Vernonia this season with two wins by scores of 69-48 and 61-48, though the last meeting came on Jan. 25. Knappa also has strong wins over No. 1 Western Mennonite (49-47 on Dec. 16) and defeated No. 2 Columbia Christian 64-58 on Feb. 6.
However, Vernonia and its head coach David Weller, have had success at the state tournament highlighted by its state championship run in 2016, and are coming off an upset of No. 6 Monroe in the first round last week.
NO. 2 COLUMBIA CHRISTIAN (27-1) vs. NO. 10 KENNEDY (16-13), 8:15 p.m. — The nightcap pairs one of the best teams in the state in Columbia Christian against one of the most battle-tested in the Kennedy Trojans.
Columbia Christian’s lone blemish on the season so far is a 64-58 loss to No. 3 Knappa on Feb. 6, and otherwise the Lions have rolled through the schedule. The Trojans come in off an upset of No. 10 Pilot Rock last week, adding to their list of tough games this season, such as No. 11 Vernonia, Class 3A No. 6 Santiam Christian among others.
The Lions and Trojans met in the preseason in mid-December, where the Lions squeezed out a 47-45 victory.