PILOT ROCK - All season long the Pilot Rock Rockets have had to fight for girls basketball respect.
That may come a little easier now, as the Rockets defeated Sherman County 48-43 Friday to finish the season as Columbia Basin Conference co-champions.
"I think we've earned respect now," Rockets coach Doug Baxter said. "I felt coming into this game if it was close we'd have the advantage. Seeing the scores of Sherman County I don't think they've had many close games this year."
Amanda Doherty picked a great opportunity to remind people that she remains one of the best players in all of 2A basketball. She scored 22 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and made four steals, while doing her part to break the vaunted Huskies' press.
"My heart's out to A.J. Doherty," Baxter said. "She carried us on her back this game just like a senior's supposed to do. She means a lot to this program."
The Huskies led 13-8 after the first quarter, but the Rockets turned up the defensive pressure and held Sherman County to just two second-quarter points. A Doherty 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Pilot Rock a 19-15 halftime lead.
The Huskies cut the lead in half entering the fourth quarter but the Rockets answered every challenge and were able to hang on for the victory.
"I'm very pleased and very happy with the outcome of this game, naturally," Baxter said. "It's a big win for the kids, especially for the younger ones."
Not only were the Rockets able to grab a share of the conference title, they also made amends for their 72-25 defeat at Sherman County earlier in the season, something that remains baffling to Baxter.
"I can't explain that game that was down there," he said. "It was kind of like we got into the 'Twilight Zone' and they really ate us up.
The same two teams will meet today at 6 p.m. at Riverside High School in Boardman, with the winner receiving an automatic berth in the state tournament and the loser will be the conference's No. 2 seed for the district playoffs.
"We're going to have to continue to do the same things we did," Baxter said of playing the Huskies two consecutive days. "Sherman's a very talented team and we can't expect them to hand us anything."
In addition to Doherty, Baxter said his other two seniors, Sorrel Ward and Becca Perrine, were keys, both for their play on the court and their leadership abilities and desire to win.
"I think the seniors didn't want Sherman County to walk off their home floor with that automatic state berth," he said.
The Rockets leading scorer on the season, Kylie Bronson, was limited to just seven points, but she more than made up for that with her play inside against a much taller Huskies team.
"I challenged Kylie Bronson to rebound tonight and she had 12, a season-high for her," Baxter said. "She's got to step up big for us against these bigger girls and she did."
Christina Kenney injured her ankle in the contest and Baxter said her health for today's game will be a factor for the Rockets.
The Rockets (15-7, 12-2 CBC) may have been the only people that thought they had a realistic chance to win the conference championship before the season began, making the season even more memorable.
"All these kids have worked extremely hard," Baxter said. "We've said from day one that the league title still has to come through Pilot Rock and that was the case."