Not many people expected the Pilot Rock Rockets to be tied for second place in the Columbia Basin Conference girls basketball standing, which is just where they happen to be at the moment.
Don't count Weston-McEwen coach Jeff Griggs among those people, however.
"I'm not surprised they're playing as well as they are," Griggs said. "A lot of people place too much emphasis on preseason."
The Rockets looked like anything but a conference contender their first few games, but anybody that watched Pilot Rock could see dramatic improvement as league play approached and the Rockets are still getting better.
A lot of the credit has to go to new coach Doug Baxter, who took over the helm under difficult circumstances. Not only did the Rockets lose quite a few players from last year's fifth-place state tournament team, but a number of opponents had Pilot Rock circled on their schedule after Pilot Rock won by some extremely lopsided scores the previous year.
The Rockets will be put to the test Friday when Griggs and the TigerScots visit in a contest that will determine sole possession of second place in the CBC.
The TigerScots won the first meeting 51-37 with the help of an 18-8 fourth quarter advantage and expect the Rockets to do the same things that worked in the first meeting.
"They're going to pressure us," Griggs said. "They'll pressure us in half court and full court. We need to make good passes and take the ball to the basket when it's there."
The Rockets figure to have an easier time Saturday when they travel to Culver where the Bulldogs are still searching for their first conference win. Pilot Rock led 43-10 at halftime in the first meeting and coasted to a 65-38 victory.
The TigerScots have a home contest with Wahtonka Saturday, a team that upset Weston-McEwen last season, and will be ready to play.
"We're not looking past them," Griggs said. "We still remember what it felt like losing at their place."
The TigerScots made sure history didn't repeat itself in the first game, jumping out to a 32-8 halftime lead and winning 54-23.
The Heppner Mustangs will be looking to catch either Pilot Rock or Weston-McEwen when they host Umatilla Friday. The Mustangs won a thrilling 32-31 decision earlier in Umatilla and will be looking to duplicate that effort.
The Mustangs are coming off a big win over Weston-McEwen and are playing extremely well lately. Lacey Matteson gets most of the attention, and deservedly so as she's easily one of the top players in the CBC, but Heppner has been getting solid contributions throughout the lineup.
Tylynn Smith is making a strong case for all-conference recognition, while others have all come through at key points in games. Susan Southworth came up big in the fourth quarter in the first game against Umatilla, while Brooke Rust hit the game-winning shot against the TigerScots.
Things get tougher for the Mustangs Saturday as they visit Sherman County. They'll need a faster start in the rematch than in the first meeting, when the Huskies outscored Heppner 22-8 in the first quarter on their way to a 60-43 victory. Heppner outscored Sherman County 13-6 in the second quarter, so they know they can play with the Huskies, but it will take their best effort to have a chance to win.
The week is crucial to the Vikings, who return to Umatilla for a home date against Stanfield Saturday. The Vikings broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter to defeat the Tigers 65-52 earlier behind the 25 points of Jasmine Campos.
The Vikings currently sit in fifth place in the conference race, one game in front of Wahtonka, and will be looking to close the gap on the league leaders with a pair of victories.
Sherman Co. 9-1 16-3
Weston-Mc 8-2 15-5
Pilot Rock 8-2 11-8
Heppner 7-3 12-8
Umatilla 4-6 6-14
Wahtonka 3-7 5-13
Stanfield 1-9 8-19
Culver 0-10 1-17