Rockets nail down BMC crown

Pilot Rock's Shane Lazinka (44) and Heppner's Cody Orr battle for a rebound during their game Tuesday night in Pilot Rock. Lazinka finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds in the Rockets' victory.<BR><I>Photo by Brenna E. Chapman</i>

PILOT ROCK - The Pilot Rock boys' basketball team had to withstand a furious charge from the Heppner Mustangs Tuesday, but by the end of the night finally was able to call itself Blue Mountain Conference champion.

It was the first time in more than four years that had been the case for the Rockets, so it was fitting the 66-51 win came on senior night.

"Basketball is my favorite sport and I know Chance (Bandy), Tanner (Mitchell) and (Kris Snodgrass) love it too," said senior Jeremiah GrosJacques, who led the Rockets with 18 points alongside Shane Lazinka. "Coming out with the win to win districts was great. It hasn't been done the whole four years we've played basketball here."

GrosJacques and Lazinka turned out to be the key advantage the Mustangs could not match in the final quarter. After being outscored 17-8 in the third, Pilot Rock went back to what had given it an 11-point lead at halftime - dominance in the paint.

Lazinka added 17 rebounds to his 18 points and GrosJacques also recorded a double-double with 10 boards. Many came on the offensive glass, much to the chagrin of Heppner coach David Norton.

"They had 18 offensive rebounds and scored on 11 of them," he said. "That's a lot of points."

The Rockets' ratcheted up the pressure defensively in the final quarter.

"The game was still in our favor and if we could withstand their runs we could get some stops and score," Bandy said.

Behind 16 second-half points from junior Jared Huddleston and 10 from Brent Eckman, the Mustangs closed the third frame on a 12-0 run.

"I definitely think we played this game not to lose it," Norton said. "Instead of playing to win they played not to lose; they played tight. I guess that could come from experience, but I don't want to use that. Pilot Rock flat out outplayed us tonight."

Pilot Rock coach Doug Baxter said it was important to come out firing in the final frame and his veterans did just that. GrosJacques found a soft spot in the Mustangs' zone, hitting a quick two, and Mitchell stole the ensuing inbound pass and completed a three-point play the old fashioned way.

"It would've been nice not to let them go on their run in the first place," Baxter said. "We had a couple close calls on some charges that got the momentum switched around and I thought our guys did a good job withstanding that run. We just had to hold on during those runs and make sure we weren't just matching them to stay right there."

Pilot Rock's elder statesmen combined for 39 of the Rockets' 66 points and 23 rebounds.

"This was a big win," Bandy said. "It was probably the biggest win in my high school career."

With one game left on the schedule, the teams are locked in as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at the district tournament Feb. 20-21.

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