HERMISTON — In two previous meetings this season, no fewer than 20 points separated the Weston-McEwen TigerScots and Pilot Rock Rockets boys basketball teams at game’s end.
In their Columbia Basin Conference district tournament game on Wednesday night, no more than 10 points came between the two at any point.
And when the dust settled on a wild back-and-forth fourth quarter, it was the Rockets celebrating a 59-58 win that more than made up for a pair of earlier lopsided defeats.
“We just had to believe that we were the better team,” said Rockets senior Dillon Fritz, who along with senior Justin Willingham paced the team with 17 points apiece. “It was all about believing.”
“We were just pumped,” said Willingham, who also was a big part of Pilot Rock’s 45-23 rebounding advantage. “Our underclassmen really wanted to win it for our seniors and we just played great as a team.”
Weston-McEwen had beaten Pilot Rock 77-40 and 49-29 already this season, and with 44 seconds to play, Shyler Mikesell appeared to right the balance for the TigerScots (10-14). His three-pointer put them ahead 58-57, but with 18 seconds showing, Willingham lofted a jumper from just inside the free-throw line that bounced around the circumference of the rim before dropping with :15 left.
In a hectic series of events, each team turned the ball over in the next 11 seconds, leaving the TigerScots inbounding the ball near their own baseline with :04 on the clock. The pass came in to Mikesell, who drove to the rim but couldn’t finish with Willingham and the rest of the Rocket defense closing in.
“Let’s face it, the Achilles heel for our team (this season) is when another team goes on a run we bowed down,” said Pilot Rock coach Cory Anderson. “Tonight we answered their runs, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Rockets (7-13) didn’t launch right away, and Weston-McEwen (10-14) pushed an early lead to nine points in the second quarter before the Rockets finished the last three minutes of the half on a 6-2 run to pull within 26-21 at intermission.
Pilot Rock continued its momentum in the third quarter, and went on a 16-2 run that featured two three-pointers by Bryson Pierce and another from Chris Weinke, and was capped by a three-point play from Fritz at the 4:12 mark.
Pilot Rock led 38-28 at that point, but the TigerScots finished the frame on a 9-2 run of their own to make it a one-basket game headed into the fourth at 40-37.
The Rockets struck first in the fourth, but the TigerScots were able chip away and knot the score at 44-all with 6:48 to play.
The lead changed hands four times over the next four minutes until Jarett Bousquet reset the scoreboard at 53-all with a putback in the lane with 2:40 to play.
Willingham answered with four straight points to make it a 57-55 game.
The Rockets advance to play Irrigon on Friday in the CBC semifinals at Pendleton Convention Center.
“We’ve just got to keep believing and keep winning from here on out,” said Fritz, “keep pushing.”
PILOT ROCK 59, WESTON-MCEWEN 58
PRHS (7-13) 6 15 19 19 — 59
WMHS (10-14) 11 15 11 21 — 58
PILOT ROCK — Dillon Fritz 17, Justin Willingham 17, B. Pierce 10, C. Weinke 7, D. Hasher 6, L. Thieme, B. Postma, P. Roe.
WESTON-MCEWEN — Linton McAllister 14, J. Bousquet 12, S. Mikesell 11, G. Zerba 6, C. Hall 5, B. Speed 5, E. Reger 3, S. Broncheau 2, B. Dearing, J. Cogswell, A. Finifrock.
3-point field goals — PRHS 4, WMHS 7. Free throws — PRHS 17-22, WMHS 10-15. Fouls — PRHS 13, WMHS 20. Fouled out — Bousquet (WMHS).
WALLOWA 49, HELIX 29 — At Wallowa, the Cougars (10-12) left little doubt to the outcome of their Old Oregon League district play-in game with the Grizzlies (2-21) on Tuesday night.
Wallowa led 33-9 at halftime, and never allowed Helix to cut the lead below double digits.
Karl Wellens led the Cougars with 18 points and Gareth Murray added 16. The duo combined for seven of Wallowa’s eight made three-pointers.
Braden Sprenger led Helix with 13 points, and Levi Papineau added six points, 10 rebounds.