PILOT ROCK - There are a lot of things fans of high school basketball expect to see when they attend the first game of the season: slow starts, spotty shooting and sloppy execution to name a few.
All of those aspects could be seen at times Tuesday as the Pilot Rock Rockets opened the season hosting the Umatilla Vikings, but the smattering of fans on site also got an early-season treat when the Rocket boys and girls both came from behind in the fourth quarter to secure their first wins of the year in thrilling fashion.
In the night's first varsity game, the Scott Bow era of Umatilla girls' basketball seemed destined to kick off with a win, but 10 points in the final 1:30 by the Rockets lifted the home squad to a 40-39 decision.
The boys followed with a more drawn-out but equally exciting comeback as they battled from 14 down in the third quarter to a 69-64 victory.
The lady Rockets (1-0) were led by a double-double from Elizabeth Willingham, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds while frontcourt running mate Brittany Doherty added five points and 12 boards.
Trailing 15-14 at the half, the Rockets regained the lead early in the third thanks to their 2-3 zone, smart distribution by point guard Amylee Perrine (seven points) and solid post play. But first-year Viking head coach Bow subbed in 6-foot-1 post Naomi Castanon (nine points, 13 rebounds) before the Rockets could build on their lead.
Castanon disrupted the Rocket offense by clogging passing lanes in the middle and opened up her shooters by drawing the attention of the Rocket zone.
"We were protecting the middle of the court and we had to do some adjustments and put some speed in there to go man-to-man to get us back in the game," Pilot Rock coach Brian Benson said.
Umatilla (0-1) quickly regained the lead and went into the fourth up by four points. The Vikings built that lead to 39-30 with about 1:30 left in the game, and with the Rockets struggling to score the contest appeared to be decided.
But consecutive three-pointers by Shelby Torgeson (four steals) and Perrine, then a block by Jennifer Gillespie that led to a loose-ball foul to put Willingham at the line for bonus shots, had the Rockets suddenly within striking distance with 32.5 seconds left to play.
Willingham missed her first bonus shot, but Perrine stole the ball back under the basket and, after Perrine's layup rolled out, Willingham completed the offensive putback to make it a 39-38 game with 21 seconds still showing.
The Rockets then got some help with their winning points as the Vikings turned the ball over on a double-dribble, then fouled Doherty as she tried to put back an offensive rebound.
Doherty hit nothing but net on both free throw attempts and a last-second runner by the Vikings' Jessica Vandever (10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) clanged off the rim to wrap up the Rocket win.
"Hanging onto the ball was a key for us and I emphasized it over and over in those last seven minutes," Bow said. "We fell short of it. A lot of things led up to letting (the Rockets) back in it - not getting in their face enough or not boxing out."
While it took their female counterparts until very late to make their move, the Rocket boys seemed poised for victory early in their contest as they opened on a 10-4 run and led the entire first quarter.
The Vikings (0-1), who coach Tony Villanueva explained are still learning a completely new system from last year, finally started to click in the second quarter, taking their first lead of the game on a Steve Williams (11 points, five assists, four rebounds) lay-in with 7:23 left in the half.
They went into the locker room up 35-30 as Pilot Rock struggled with point guard Chance Bandy (23 points, six rebounds) and post Shane Lazinka (nine points, seven rebounds) both in foul trouble.
A Nathan Creason (nine points, five rebounds) three-point play made it a double-digit lead early in the third quarter and Umatilla led by as many as 14 before the Rockets were able to bring the lead back to seven headed into the fourth.
The Rockets began their push with a Bandy steal and lay-in to make it 56-52 with 5:38 to play. Then, after a Umatilla bucket, Lazinka completed a three-point play then came up with a block on Umatilla's next possession.
With players like Bandy, Lazinka and Jeremiah GrosJacques (17 points, 11 rebounds, three steals) leading the way for the Rockets, newcomer Tevin Dominguez made his mark by dishing to GrosJacques for two down low, and then finishing a drive of his own to regain the lead.
A floater in the lane from Williams put Umatilla back up by one with 2:30 left to play, and a bonus shot moments later by Ruben Navarrete (four points, four steals, four assists, eight rebounds) made it a two-point game.
Then, after the Rockets tied it up at 61 with 1:55 left on a Bandy drive, like in the girls' game prior, the basketball gods seemed to smile on the home team.
Following a hard no-call on the Viking end of the floor, Creason was hit with a technical on a play during which Williams was called for a shooting foul on Bandy.
Bandy made all four foul shots, plus two more with 11.4 seconds remaining to hold off the Vikings.
"We came out and matched (Umatilla's) intensity and played hard," Rockets coach Doug Baxter said. "When you've got a senior point guard that's got three fouls he's got to learn to play with those three fouls and I thought (Bandy) did a pretty good job (Tuesday)."
"We did a good job," Villanueva said, considering the new playbook they are learning. "We gave up a lot of free throws, which we have to change, and there was about a six-minute lull where we reverted to standing around on defense and because of that we let them back in the ball game."
Pilot Rock will be at the Jefferson Tip-Off Tournament this Friday and Saturday while Umatilla travels to the Ione Basketball Bonanza.