HERMISTON - After working themselves out from a 21-8 first-period deficit into a 31-31 tie in the third, the Hermiston Bulldogs stumbled again down the stretch and fell to the Walla Walla Blue Devils 59-51 Tuesday night.

Both teams used the match to work out kinks in their game plan, and both coaches said such nonconference games will be beneficial come league play early in the new year.

"It was a good preseason game for us," said Jack Mehn, coach of the now 3-0 Blue Devils. "Our first two games weren't as big a test as this one was, and we knew it coming in. I told the girls to treat it like a little playoff game."

Hermiston coach Mike Royer agreed that the level of competition was high, and facing off against a well-coached team like Walla Walla will only help in the long run.

"It's good to be playing teams like this, and at times we looked really good," he said. "But we're still learning to play with each other, and that shows up at times, too."

Sarau Morrison led the Bulldogs (1-2) in scoring for the third consecutive game, putting eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter, while freshman Shoni Schimmel cashed in a 13-point, seven-assist, seven-steal performance in her first varsity start.

Sarah Von Arx contributed 10 points and six rebounds, and Royer said her play at post will be a key as the season rolls on.

"(She) had some points for us on the inside, and that's what we need to see happen," he said.

Melissa Eastman scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Blue Devils, while guard Jennifer Keyes scored 16 and hit 4-of-7 from long range.

The Bulldogs have eight more games to go before Intermountain Conference play begins, and despite the loss the team attitude was one of being on the right track.

"We're still learning what plays to run against different defenses, but we played better defense and executed on offense," said Jordan Crossley, who scored six points and had three steals. "It was a pretty good game."

Royer agreed it was a generally strong performance, but said the team needed to improve in one specific area - settling down on offense.

"We weren't taking care of the ball, and I think some of that is just inexperience," he said. "There's some times we're too impatient in half court, and we have to learn to execute and make more than two passes. But execution comes with experience, and that's something that will improve with practice."

The Bulldogs also used the game as a chance to try different combinations on the court, which gave Schimmel an opportunity to play with the starting five.

"We're looking for a unit that can give us a good start," Royer said. "(Shoni) provides offense and can make things happen. I don't know if she'll be a starter all season - but her minutes will be the same whether she starts or not."

Royer added the preseason will continue to be a difficult road, but the team will be thankful come the new year.

"Once January rolls around and we start playing IMC games, we're going to be glad we had the preseason we had," he said. "It's not getting any easier from here."

Hermiston's next three games will be on the road against Pasco, Portland Jefferson and Sherwood, each top contenders in their respective leagues.

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WALLA WALLA (3-0) 21 6 11 17 - 59

HERMISTON (1-2) 8 13 17 13 - 51

WALLA WALLA - Melissa Eastman 22, Jennifer Keyes 16, Natalie Klicker 6, Shanie Bushman 6, Anna Forge 6, Abby Reardon 2, Megan Howerton 1.

HERMISTON - Sarau Morrison 16, Shoni Schimmel 13, Sarah Von Arx 10, Jordan Crossley 6, Paige Davis 4, Michelle Coombs 2.

3-point field goals - Walla Walla 4-7, Hermiston 2-5. Free throws - Walla Walla 9-14, Hermiston 7-13. Fouls - Walla Walla 10, Hermiston 13.

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