Trailing rival Hermiston by as much as 13 points in the second half, the slumping Pendleton Buckaroos were allotted every opportunity to fold again — this time maybe for good — and let the two-time defending Columbia River Conference champions continue to assert its dominance.
Instead, the Buckaroos picked their heads up, fought tooth and nail with the Bulldogs and eventually clawed their way to a 55-51 victory Tuesday at Warberg Court.
Pendleton (11-7, 1-2 CRC) had dug itself in a hole in league play with losses to Hood River Valley and The Dalles to open CRC play. Tuesday they put the shovel down.
“We had to snap the losing streak,” said senior center Wes Persinger. “We came into the locker room (at halftime) and said we’re not losing another game. We’re not going 0-3 in league. It’s now our never. We needed a gut check.”
The Buckaroos play in the final 16 minutes left little doubt as to who needed the win more. The Buckaroos got to nearly every meaningful loose ball including a pair in the final minute which earned them the victory.
Hermiston (5-12, 2-1 CRC) center Keegan Craft mishandled the ball near midcourt with the game knotted at 51 with 33 seconds remaining. He and Persinger raced for the ball, the 6-foot-6 Pendleton center won the scurry, flipped it from his back to a streaking Quinn Cockburn who scored the go-ahead lay-in with 28 seconds remaining.
“It was great hustle from Wes,” Cockburn said. “He made the opportunity. I was lucky enough to finish it.”
“We just were fired up. We wanted to get to everything,” Persinger said.
The second Bulldog giveaway sealed it for Pendleton. With starting point guard Austin Naillon out on fouls, reserve guard Chance Flores missed an entry pass to Chase Knutz. The ball bounced out to Pendleton’s Caden Smith. Smith was fouled by Crafton. The sophomore converted both free throws to supply the final score and put the game on ice.
“We were about due,” Pendleton coach Brian Broaddus said. “I like the fight — the grit tonight. There were kids that just didn’t want to lose.”
The loss snapped a 16-game Bulldog (5-12, 2-1 CRC) league win streak. The last loss came in February of 2013.
While Broaddus lauded his team’s effort, there wasn’t enough fight in the Dawgs, according to Hermiston coach Jake McElligott.
“We were a soft team the second half,” he said. “We just weren’t a very tough team.”
Hermiston led by 10 at the break. Knutz nailed his fourth three of the game on the second half’s first possession to make the lead 13. The Bulldogs carried a sizable edge into the fourth quarter before the Bucks aggressive play wore on them.
The game hit a fever pitch with 5:24 left in regulation with Hermiston leading by two. Following a Crafton missed free throw, Knutz was called for a common foul. Words were exchanged between Knutz and a Pendleton player and Knutz was assessed technical foul.
Pendleton’s James Bradt made two free throws for the personal foul and Sonny Green made two more for the technical. The four free throws brought the game even and Pendleton would go on to outscore Hermiston 11-7 for the duration.
“I told them in the locker room that emotions cloud your judgment. You need to be focused on what we need to achieve and how we’re trying to get there,” McElligott said.
Smith, who led Pendleton with 20 points, made swooping layups on consecutive possessions following the altercation. His first gave Pendleton its first lead of the game. His second drew a foul and made the count 49-46.
Knutz, Hermiston’s quarterback and the Class 5A offensive player of the year, threw a rare interception on the next possession. The pass was picked off by fellow quarterback Kai Quinn, who went the distance to give the Bucks a 51-46 advantage.
Naillon and Knutz scored five unanswered to even the score at 51 with 1:20 remaining. The Knutz basket was a three-pointer — his fifth of the game.
Hermiston would turn it over on it next two possessions, resulting in the Cockburn go-ahead basket and Smith’s sealing foul shots.
“We had nothing else to lose,” said Pendleton senior Dillon George.
“Hopefully it’s a turning point,” Broaddus added. “We’re kind of teetering right there.”
Hermiston still owns control of the CRC with the loss. They’re tied atop the standings at 2-1 with Hood River Valley, but own the tiebreaker with last week’s win.
Smith had 16 of his game-best 20 points after intermission. Most came on drives to the basket while defended by the smaller Naillon.
“We knew that they wanted to isolate him up top and just go to work one-on-one,” McElligot said. “Guys didn’t do their jobs in the gap and guys didn’t do their job on help side. That’s something we’ll need to work on for the next time we see them.”
Persinger added 12 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in the win for Pendleton.
Knutz had 17 to lead Hermiston. Dillon Zimmerly chipped in with 13.
Hermiston hosts The Dalles on Friday. Pendleton travels to Hood River Valley on the same day.
PENDLETON 55, HERMISTON 51
HHS 12 18 11 10 — 51
PHS 9 11 14 21 — 55
HERMISTON — C. Flores 2, J. Ruiz 0, T. Salinas 0, K. Crafton 8, A. Naillon 7, J. Hinkle 0, D. Zimmerly 13, C. Knutz 17, L. Gammell 0, C. Lloyd 4, C. Smith 0, B. Palmer 0.
PENDLETON — S. Green 9, M. Foreman 0, Q. Cockburn 2, K. Quinn 6, T. Hancock 0, D. Goerge 2, W. Persinger 12, W. Morris 0, D. Roe 0, C. Smith 20, J. Brodt 4, > Winterton 0.
3-point field goals — Hermiston 7, Pendleton 3. Free throws — Hermiston 10-15, Pendleton 16-23. Fouled out — A. Naillon (HHS). Technical fouls — C. Knutz (HHS). Fouls — Hermiston 19, Pendleton 16.