PENDLETON - A sloppy first half of Intermountain Conference basketball Thursday turned into an overtime thriller in a battle for second place on Warburg Court.
Needing a win to clinch second in the IMC, the Hermiston Bulldogs rode 26 points from Mike Haberstich to a 51-47 overtime victory, clinching the No. 2 seed for the 4A playoffs.
"We all had a good game and I always wanted to win in Pendleton," Haberstich said. "This was huge for us to secure the second spot in the playoffs."
Hermiston (15-8, 10-3 IMC) will host a 4A sub-tournament playoff game March 8. A win would put the Bulldogs in the state championship tournament March 11-15.
"As a head coach I've never had an experience like I've had this year with these kids, and they've fought through adversity," Hermiston head coach Larry Usher said. "They started out the year 1-6 and the kids stuck with it and battled all year."
Pendleton (14-10, 9-5 IMC) will host a sub-tournament game March 6 and with a win will travel to play the No. 2 seed from the Portland Interscholastic League March 8 for a chance at the state championship tournament.
"They're good athletes. There's a reason they are second in our conference, they've got good players," Pendleton head coach Jeff Quinn said.
Pendleton jumped to an early 4-0 first quarter lead but struggled with 11 first half turnovers. Hermiston took advantage with 10 points from Haberstich. Pendleton played close, exploiting a smaller Bulldog line-up without starting center Tyler Murray, who did not play for violating school district rules.
Justin Nuess scored six of his 17 points in the first half and Hermiston held a 21-18 halftime lead.
"They were fronting me a lot of the time, so I was having a hard time getting the ball. But I wasn't having too hard of a time scoring when I did get it," Nuess said.
"Nuess is a kid that really works hard and he hurt us in the first half," Usher said.
Pendleton opened the third quarter with Nuess and Brian Nooy contributing offensively to tie the game at 23, but Haberstich answered with six unanswered points, including a dunk, for a 29-23 lead.
"He wanted this game and late in the year he's accomplished some things with his athleticism and skills," Usher said.
Nooy would score the next four points, and a full-court pass to a wide-open Alfie Wilson tied the game at 29 heading into the fourth quarter.
Both teams exchanged buckets early in the fourth, and a Jake Burns bucket with 2:19 left gave Hermiston a 37-34 lead. Pendleton went right to Nuess, who converted a three-point play the hard way to tie the game at 37 with 1:38 left in the fourth.
"I thought Justin Nuess had a great game. He really did a nice job. If we wouldn't have had him, we might have been in trouble," Quinn explained.
Haberstich added a pair of free throws on the next possession, before Nuess was fouled and hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe with 1:02 remaining in regulation.
Clinging to a 39-38 lead, Hermiston elected to run its stall offense. Pendleton fouled Haberstich, who drilled a pair of free throws with 13.3 remaining.
Pendleton, trailing 41-38, quickly brought the ball up the court and found Marcus Buckley, who drilled a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left.
"My post (Nuess) was tearing it up. They had to guard him and they couldn't switch off. He really helped open it up," said Buckley, who scored 7 points.
Haberstich would get a good look at an open 3-pointer, but it fell short, sending the game into overtime tied at 41.
The Bulldogs were sparked early by a reverse layup from Haberstich, but Nooy answered with a bucket of his own. A pair of free throws each by Mark Carollo and Haberstich around a Nuess bucket gave Hermiston a 47-45 lead with 2:18 left in overtime.
"They got to the free-throw line and obviously that was their game plan," Quinn said. They were very, very good from the free throw line."
Pendleton would later turn the ball over and Burns was 4-of-4 from the charity stripe in the closing seconds, earning a Bulldog sweep of the season series.
"We're not pleased. The kids fought hard, (Hermiston) just got it done tonight and we didn't," Quinn said
Burns finished with 10 points and Mark Carollo scored 8 points for the Bulldogs.
"Take nothing away from Pendleton. They would not go away," Usher said. "Buckley, Nooy and Nuess, they're great competitors."
Nooy and Short added nine points each for Pendleton.
"The kids will bounce back. They've got a lot of character. It's a pretty tough loss, but they will bounce back and be ready to go for the playoffs," Quinn said.
Sports reporter Joe McHaney can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-236) or by e-mail at email@example.com.