Even before the Hermiston girls had clinched a state playoff berth, coach Steve Hoffert was keeping a wary eye on the Bulldogs' potential first-round matchup, Madison.
But after Hermiston's come-from-behind win against Pendleton to clinch its spot, Hoffert had a whole new batch of phone calls to make. Madison was forced to forfeit games due to players playing too many quarters, leaving the door wide open for Cleveland as the Bulldogs' new opponent today.
The Warriors (7-17, 6-6 PIL) would have missed the playoffs without the ruling but instead will play Hermiston where they are most dangerous, according to Hoffert.
"They're a lot like Madras or The Dalles, who were a lot better at home, but struggled on the road," he said. "They got beat pretty solid on the road but played better at home, averaging about 30 more points per game at home. We're just going into this game preparing like we did the last five games. We're going to focus on our defensive pressure and our offensive sets."
The Bulldogs (9-14, 8-6 IMC) won the last two games in that five-game stretch, doing so with the emergence of scoring from alternate sources - most noticeably underclassmen Kathryn Barnitz and Maloree Moss.
Down the stretch, Barntiz's scoring took a big upswing with two 20-point games in three tries, while Moss' ability to run the point has been a stabilizing force for the Bulldogs.
"It's made things easier for us this year," Hoffert said. "For Hannah (Whitsett) and Marie (Pedro), they relied so much on each other to score early in the season that there were games they struggled offensively. Now, Marie is at ease with shooting and Hannah feels much more comfortable because she knows she doesn't need to get 20-30 points in a game."
Whitsett has still put forward that kind of production for the Bulldogs and will continue to do so as one of the only sources of playoff experience.
For Hermiston's 2008 state-runner up finish, Whitsett and Pedro were vital cogs coming off the bench. And with that first-hand knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the playoffs, Hoffert is hoping they can rub off on their younger teammates.
"The other girls are responding good," Whitsett said. "They are all working really hard and they saw that by us finishing second at state it does take a lot of hard work to get that far."
"It's a big change and hopefully the girls will see it too," Pedro added. "Playoffs is a lot different than league and it can be an eye-opener. I feel pretty confident with our first-round matchup and benefit us and get us ready for that second round."
The Bulldogs have already had the chance to lessen the shock factor for the playoffs, though, with a brutal nonconference slate. Games against elite teams like Corvallis, Pasco and Lewiston have already shown them what it takes to play and win at a high level.
"Playing little schools in the preseason wouldn't have meant as much," Whitsett said. "Sure you might have beat them by 40 but what does that prove? The good thing about the Hermiston program is it always schedules really tough games so that gets us ready for the third season, we call it, which is districts and state."