HERMISTON - A two-game sweep was just the medicine to cure the Hermiston boys' basketball team.
The Bulldogs took care of the second half of the sweep by beating Bend 69-43 Saturday. In doing so, they also pushed their way into a fourth place tie with Summit.
It was a somewhat sluggish start for Hermiston (10-8, 5-4 IMC), which allowed 27 points to the Lava Bears (4-14, 2-7 IMC) in the first half.
"It was an issue of energy," Hermiston coach Larry Usher said. "Before the game we put up two things on the board, energy and emotion. We're not really happy about playing at 1:45 p.m. on a Saturday but we don't get to decide when we play or who we play, so when we have a game we have to show up emotionally ready to play."
But the offense was more than up to the task of keeping the Bulldogs in front by a fair margin throughout the first half.
Luis Ortiz scored 12 of his 16 points in the first quarter, burying three shots from beyond the arc while Brad Irwin poured in 11 of his 14 by halftime. As an added boost, Cody Meeks came off the bench and hit two three-pointers in the second quarter, his only buckets of the afternoon.
"We executed really well," Irwin said. "We just traded baskets in the first half, but then in the second half we got some stops and that gave us momentum and built our lead up."
Coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter, Hermiston put it all together. They picked up the defensive intensity and held the Bears to just three points.
Usher rested his starters for the fourth quarter and still saw the same intensity, building the lead to its highest point of 26.
"It was kind of the same thing against Crook County a couple of weeks back," Ortiz said. "We came out flat in the first half, but (Coach) Usher gave us a talk and we picked it up in the second and denied everywhere. We forced turnovers and got out and ran."
The biggest difference came from the biggest player on the court. The return of center Cody Humphrey was not only an inspirational lift for the Bulldogs, but his sheer size and strength inside the paint kept the Lava Bears out of sorts for big stretches at the outset of each half.
With Humphrey patrolling the middle, Bend could not penetrate and was held scoreless for a four-minute stretch to start the first quarter and also sustained a five-minute drought in the third quarter - not scoring their first field goal until 6:40 had come off the clock.
"For our kids it's a mental and emotional lift more than anything else," Usher said. "A lot of people commented last night what a difference it was having him on the court because he's such a leader and the kids really look to him when things aren't going well. And the confidence is really up with the kids as well."
The boost in confidence could not have come at a better time for the Bulldogs. The sweep of the last home weekend gives them a running start going into Bend next week against Summit, which Usher labeled the "biggest game of the season."
"We haven't been playing up to our expectations this year and getting these two wins this weekend was really good for us," Irwin said. "Now that we have our full team we should be getting back to where we want to be."
Irwin added the emotion will undoubtedly stay high over the next road trip with a spot in the playoffs on the line against the Storm.