HERMISTON - The first time out for a young Hermiston girls' basketball team proved to be exactly what first-year head coach Steve Hoffert expected - a work in progress.
With a slew of new starters and inexperience coming off the bench, the Bulldogs took their lumps against Walla Walla in their first game, losing narrowly 54-47.
Aside from a brief 14-2 run in the second quarter - one that gave them their biggest lead at 31-21 - the Bulldogs struggled to find a flow offensively, scoring just 16 second-half points.
"I think it came down to being our first game of the year and our inexperience," Hoffert said. "It's about when to cut, when to make the big play and who's going to make it and we had some girls try to make the big play. The next time that happens, they're going to understand how better to make that happen."
Replacing four starters from last year's state runner-up squad, Hermiston looked to its seniors, who - in their first look as captains - did not disappoint.
Hannah Whitsett helped the Bulldogs to a fast start in the first quarter, scoring nine of her 17 points, and Marie Pedro dumped in nine points of her own to go with five rebounds.
"That's what's expected of them and they've talked about that," Hoffert said. "They're going to be the ones that have to learn the youth will take some time. They've been there and they understand we'll struggle at times with the youth, but they have to show that leadership."
As the game wore on, though, the experience of the Blue Devils began to click as they found their rhythm, according to coach Jack Mehn.
While freshman Jamie Weisner dominated the opening frame with nine points, sophomore Hope Klicker took over in the second half, scoring the vast majority of her 22 points to outscore Hermiston 27-16 in the second half.
"In the first half we were very sloppy in terms of turnovers and missed a lot of easy shots," Mehn said. "But we settled down and I figured that would happen in time. I didn't think it would take a whole half but it did. Fortunately we did settle down and start to play some better basketball."
Hoffert said there was less urgency from his players to shoot the ball, with some of the younger players passing up shots to force an extra pass.
For the game, the Bulldogs took only 47 shots, while the goal, according to Hoffert, is usually between 60 and 70.
"We had some shots we should have taken," he said. "I know our point guard, (Malloree) Moss, had some shots all night and didn't take and finally takes one and goes 1-1 in the game. She's a good shooter and she has to understand she has to take more shots."
The onus to take more of an aggressive role offensively does not fall on the shoulders of the few, though, as Hoffert expects everyone on the floor to be a threat.
Losing Game 1 of a long schedule does not daunt Hoffert, though, and having gone through ups and downs in the preseason before, Hoffert in confident in one thing - his team will be battle-tested before league play.
"It's something we expect to have a great game every night," he said. "We want that. We don't want to go out and beat someone by 30 points, we don't want that kind of basketball."