Umatilla got a firsthand glimpse Saturday at what a championship basketball team looks like.
Facing the reigning Class 3A state champion Vale Vikings, seventh-ranked Umatilla sparred with the champs for three quarters before the visiting Vikings wore them down and then out to extend their win streak with a 51-40 victory at Umatilla High School.
A veteran ball club, third-ranked Vale (16-1, 5-0 EOL) kept its composure and weathered several Umatilla (16-3, 4-1 EOL) surges to win its ninth straight game and 40th in 42 outings.
The final answer came in an 18-5 second half counterpunch that put Umatilla’s upset intentions to bed.
“If we know we can play with Vale, there’s not a team in this state that we’re worried about it,” said Umatilla coach Scott Bow.
Due to a previous postponement, Bow’s team will have ample opportunity to prove they can in the coming weeks. The Vikings will square off again in Umatilla on Thursday, a third time on Valentine’s Day at Vale, and possibly again in the EOL district title game the following week.
The step up in competition comes at a perfect time for Umatilla. Winners of seven consecutive entering Saturday, Umatilla had begun to “coast” against weaker competition, Bow said, something a team with playoff aspirations cannot afford.
“If we do get a playoff berth, seeing Vale this many times in a row is only going to make us stronger,” he said.
A Sidney Webb jumper placed Umatilla down three with 3:21 left in the third period. But teammate Kasandra Gailbrath was whistled for her third and fourth fouls on consecutive defensive possessions sending the team’s defensive stopper to the bench. With Gailbrath out, Vale smelled the blood in the water, stepping on the accelerator on both ends to turn the one-possesion game into a seven-point lead by end of the period and a double digit advantage for the fourth quarter’s duration.
“We have real good depth and we’re able to play a lot of kids,” said Vale coach Jason Johnson “That takes its toll in the second half generally. I think that helped.”
Umatilla turned it over on five of its first seven possession of the second half. The fifth turnover — a Courtney Dohman errant pass — led to a Kimber Hawkins fastbreak layup and made the score 46-35. The lead would never fall below double figures again.
“Tonight in the fourth quarter you start to recognize in those kids that they’ve been in that situation and they understand what they need to do to win a big ball game — I thought they did that tonight,” Johnson said.
It’s a lesson Umatilla may have needed to learn. With just one senior starter, and no playoff berths since 2011, Umatilla is unaccustomed to playing in “big games.”
“This is exactly what we needed,” Bow said.
The first half tug of war saw each side use scoring spurts to grab the edge. A 7-0 Umatilla lead earned them a 17-16 lead in the second. Vale didn’t waste any time turn the tide, scoring the next six points before ending the period on a 11-5 run.
The Umatilla lead, which came on a Webb layup, was its last of the game. They managed to stay within six until the third quarter.
“Good teams will compete with you toe-to-toe and I thought they did that,” Johnson said.
Aleesha Watson supplied most of the Umatilla offense, scoring 14 points. She, like the rest of Umatilla, struggled to find the net consistently, however. Umatilla was just 16-of-54 from the field.
VALE 51, UMATILLA 40
VHS (16-1) 12 15 14 10 — 51
UHS (16-3) 7 16 11 6 — 40
VALE — Ki. Hawkins 11, Ka. Hawkins 5, K. DeLong 5, M. Johnson 8, A. Trenkel 0, M. Wolfe 3, K. Weber 3, A. Hamilton 6 , H. Bates 10, K. Cooper 0.
UMATILLA — M. Paz 6, K. Barajas 0, I. Campos 7, B. Campos 0, S. Webb 10, K. Galbraith 2, C. Dohman 1, A. Watson 14.
3-point field goals — VHS 3, UHS 6. Free throws — VHS 12-23, UHS 2-7. Fouls — VHS 16, UHS 17.