What has been a crazy and hectic race for the only two district tournament boys basketball spots out of the Big Sky Conference Eastern Division will finally be determined Saturday as the regular season comes to a close.
The Echo Cougars (10-11, 8-4 Big Sky) are in the driver's seat with a two-game lead, but visit the No. 3 Arlington Honkers at 7:30 p.m. Friday, who currently occupy the first-place spot in the Western Division.
"Arlington has played tough all year," Echo head coach Mitch Morioka said. "We need to control the tempo and the intensity."
Arlington (20-2, 12-1) will welcome Echo, knowing that with a win the Honkers can clinch the Western Division's top seed.
"I expect a tight and tough ball game with Echo," Arlington head coach Shawn Troutman said. "Each team is fighting for a playoff spot."
The Cougars can also clinch the top seed in the Eastern Division with a win this weekend, but a loss to Arlington coupled with a defeat at Ione Saturday could set up a tie for first place.
The Ione Cardinals (8-15, 6-6 Big Sky) will host Cascade Locks (12-10, 5-8 Big Sky) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, before heading to Echo at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Echo knocked off Ione in the first meeting, 46-29, Jan. 11, behind Curtis Bodewig who scored a game-high 17 points.
"Arlington and Ione will be a task for us and it would be huge for us to earn the No. 1 seed," Morioka said. "Ione was young in the first game, but has grown over the season."
If Ione and Helix sweep their games this weekend and Echo drops both its contests, a three-way tie for first place could occur.
The Helix Grizzlies (11-11, 6-6 Big Sky) come off a huge double-overtime win over Wheeler Tuesday, keeping their playoff hopes alive. The Grizzlies appear to have the toughest schedule, visiting Dufur at 7:30 p.m. Friday and hosting Arlington at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Dufur (18-4, 10-3 Big Sky) has had a successful season, but unless South Wasco County loses or Arlington drops both its contests, earning a playoff opportunity will be impossible for the Rangers.
"We know that Helix needs wins and will give us their best game," Troutman said. "Our goal is to go in No. 1 and we want to win the rest of our games."
The Condon Blue Devils (9-13, 5-7 Big Sky) have an outside chance of making the district tournament, but need losses from either Helix or Ione and wins over South Wasco County and Cascade Locks this weekend.
Condon visits the No. 6 South Wasco County Redsides (19-3, 12-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and hosts Cascade Locks at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the final home game for the seniors.
The Wheeler Falcons' (7-12, 4-8 Big Sky) district tournament hopes were all but ended with the loss to Helix. Wheeler could still tie for second place, but will need wins over Central Christian and Horizon Christian this weekend.
Wheeler also needs Condon to lose one game and Helix and Ione to drop two games, forcing what could be a four-way tie for second place. The Falcons host Central Christian (0-21, 0-13 Big Sky) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and visit Horizon Christian at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Big Sky girls preview
While the boys square off in crucial Big Sky contests, the Big Sky girls district tournament scenario is set, with just one simple glitch.
The Wheeler Falcons (12-7, 7-4 overall) could squeak into the tournament, but will need an Ione loss this weekend and a win over visiting Central Christian at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Falcons come off a win over Helix Tuesday behind Lily Herrera, who scored a game-high 30 points.
The Ione Cardinals (13-9, 8-3 Big Sky) host Cascade Locks at 6 p.m. Friday and travel to Echo at 4 p.m. Saturday. Ione needs one win in order to clinch the No. 2 Eastern seed for the district tournament.
The Condon Blue Devils (17-5 overall, 11-0) are once again the No. 1-ranked team in the state and will represent the Eastern Division as the No. 1 seed at the district tournament. Condon will try and stay perfect in the Big Sky, visiting South Wasco County at 6 p.m. Friday, before hosting Cascade Locks at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Helix Grizzlies (4-17, 2-8 Big Sky) will close the season with a visit to Dufur (15-5, 9-2 Big Sky) at 6 p.m. Friday, before hosting Arlington (6-15, 3-8 Big Sky) at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Dufur has clinched the Western No. 1 seed and South Wasco County will be the No. 2 team from the Western Division.
Sports reporter Joe McHaney can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-236) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big Sky boys
*Echo 8-4 10-11
Ione 6-6 8-15
Helix 6-6 11-11
Condon 5-7 9-13
Wheeler 4-8 7-12
Arlington 12-1 20-2
South Wasco 12-2 19-3
Dufur 10-3 18-4
Cascade Locks 5-8 12-10
Horizon Christ. 2-12 2-19
Central Christ. 0-13 1-21
*=Clinched tie for division title