The Heppner girls expect big things again this season, and they got it started right at home Friday with a league-opening 45-32 victory over the Pilot Rock Rockets.
A 15-2 first quarter was really all it took to make the statement they'd been planning, and from there the Mustangs (4-1, 1-0 Blue Mountain Conference) cruised to the win.
The Rockets (4-2, 0-1 BMC), who were very competitive in nonconference play, found themselves out of their element on the Heppner floor and couldn't get the game plan going the way they liked.
Coach Brian Benson said the girls didn't pass as well as they had been in recent games, and since ball distribution is a major part of their offensive scheme the breakdown caused serious trouble.
Heppner found many opportunities to snatch errant passes and turn them into fast breaks, which helped build a 34-17 lead by halftime. Senior Megan Orr led the squad with five picks and turned in six of her nine points following forced turnovers.
"I really like the intensity they played with," Heppner coach Mark Dowdy said. "On defense particularly, they really pressed well."
The coach added his bench players kept the defensive rhythm up and he was able to rely on them to put in heavy minutes in the second half.
Heppner senior Katie Kilkenny led the game on the boards and in the basket, rebounding 11 and scoring 12 to make her presence known inside. She also kicked out a pair of assists in the second half.
P. ROCK (4-2, 0-1 BMC) 2 15 4 11 - 32
HEPPNER (4-1, 1-0 BMC) 15 19 7 4 - 45
PILOT ROCK - Jessica Wallis 6, Alivia Winnett 6, Jessica Benson 5, Brittany Doherty 5, Amylee Perrine 4, Ashley Kannard 4, Elizabeth Willingham 2, Shelby Torgenson, Nichole Jessen, Renne Mulcare, Jennifer Gillespie.
HEPPNER - Katie Kilkenny 12, Aftan Betsinger 11, Megan Orr 9, Jessica Hughes 4, Taylor Kempas 3, Kristen Van Cleave 2, Erin Price 2, Brynna Rust 2, Kylie Doherty, Catherine McElligott.
3-point field goals - Pilot Rock 2-5, Heppner 1-2. Free throws - Pilot Rock 6-11, Heppner 10-21. Fouls - Pilot Rock 15, Heppner 15.
HEPPNER 58, PILOT ROCK 46 - Nonconference play was put aside Friday and the Heppner Mustangs boys were given the opportunity to chalk up a win that counts.
They did just that, beating a Pilot Rock Rockets team which had a much more productive preseason, but wasn't ready for the physical nature of the Heppner posts.
The Mustangs (2-2, 1-0 BMC) were led on the inside by Andre Rauch and Nacho Elguezabal, who dominated the paint through most of the game and forced the Rockets (4-2, 0-1 BMC) to approach the basket will caution. The big men combined for 24 points on the offensive side as well.
With extended football playoffs cutting both teams' pre-season prep time, neither coach liked the idea of starting league play so early. Pilot Rock coach Doug Baxter thought the advantage may go his team's way, seeing how Heppner football's postseason had run longer, but he said either way it's difficult to get on the court for games that count toward the post-season in early December.
Heppner coach Forest McKinnis said he was just thankful his players were ready to go so quickly after a championship game on the gridiron less than two weeks before.
After slowly building a lead in the first half, the Mustangs' shooting went dry in the third quarter and the Rockets took a 40-36 lead heading into the final frame. Lane Bailey and Jared Huddleston hit big three-pointers to get Heppner back on track, and sophomore Brent Eckman put in 6 of 8 free throws to seal the game.
P. ROCK (4-2, 0-1 BMC) 18 11 11 6 - 46
HEPPNER (2-2, 1-0 BMC) 19 12 5 22 - 58
PILOT ROCK - Chance Bandy 14, Tanner Mitchell 11, Tyrel Graham 9, Kris Snodgrass 5, Shane Lazinka 5, Jeremiah Grosjacques 2, Lane Byrnes, Shaun Hascall.
HEPPNER - Andre Rauch 15, Lane Bailey 13, Jared Huddleston 10, Nacho Elguezabal 9, Brent Eckman 6, Dalton Wellman 3, Braden Britt 2, Bryan Holland, Nathan Van Cleave, Chris Lien.
3-point field goals - Pilot Rock 5-10, Heppner 6-13. Free throws - Pilot Rock 12-17, Heppner 16-21. Fouls - Pilot Rock 16, Heppner 14.