PENDLETON — It was unfamiliar territory for the former three-time Columbia River Conference champions. The Pendleton Buckaroos were in their first play-in game in four years; and the last time their season was on the line in 2014, they were sent home licking their wounds after a 40-point defeat.
But this time, the Buckaroos were able to keep their postseason hopes alive with a 60-39 victory over Rex Putnam on Tuesday at Warberg Court.
“We’re not necessarily used to playing in the play-in game so it was kind of a different atmosphere,” head coach Kyle Tedder said.
Nonetheless, the expectations were still the same, Tedder added.
“They know what’s on the line,” he said. “We knew they’ve got two guys that we needed to neutralize and we knew we needed to play hard.”
The Kingsmen’s top scorers juniors Brady Miller and Shane Halladin accounted for nearly half of the team’s total points — a combined 19 — but it was another pair of scorers who kept Putnam in the game for a brief eight minutes.
The Bucks (15-10) got off to a 17-10 lead behind the efforts of freshman Dakota Sams and junior Tyler Newsom, who sank 11 of the team’s first-quarter points.
Pendleton hit its first bucket from the field five minutes into play, and from there went on a 13-6 run to keep the Kingsmen (5-20) at bay. But in the second quarter, Putnam made a run of its own during a Pendleton lull.
The Bucks were scoreless in the final minutes before halftime, while Putnam senior Dustin Britt and junior Ruben Onishchenko were knocking down baskets. After back-to-back turnovers and a huge block by Pendleton junior Willie Camp, the Bucks took a timeout before the Kingsmen inbounded from the baseline.
Once back on the court, Onischchenko was dished the ball and hit a jumper followed by a Britt 3-pointer — the team’s first and only attempt from behind the arc in the first half — and a putback to put Putnam within eight points of the lead at the break.
The first half was riddled with turnovers and missed shots. The teams combined for 26 total turnovers and Pendleton had only made 33 perfect of its attempts from both the field and behind the arc. Putnam, which accounted for 15 of the first-half turnovers, was shooting 43 percent from the field and made its lone three-point attempt.
So, the message at the break was simple. Hold on to the lead for the next two quarters and move on to state.
“You’re 16 minutes away from being one game away,” Tedder recalled saying to the team, “and that was our ultimate goal was to be one game away from our state tournament. Now, we’re there and now we need to check that one last thing off our list.”
The Bucks came out to hold the Kingsmen to only five third-quarter points to push their lead to 40-24 heading into the final quarter where Pendleton cemented its win to move into Round 1 of the Class 5A state playoffs. No. 14 Pendleton will travel to Thurston on Saturday to face the No. 3 Thurston Colts (18-6).
RPHS 10 9 5 15 — 39
PHS 17 10 13 20 — 60
REX PUTNAM — B. Miller 10, S. Halladin 8, D. Britt 7, R. Onishchenko 6, D. Groleau 4, K. Ruffo 2, J. Devoe 2.
PENDLETON — T. Newsom 25, D. Sams 15, W. Camp 8, D. Jackson 5, K. Nroncheau 3, S. Jerome 2, R. Russell 2.
3-pointers — RPHS 3, PHS 7. Free throws — RPHS 4-5, PHS 7-9.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.