The HRV girls came into Friday’s home contest with Mountain View knowing that they needed a win to position themselves for a late-season playoff run.
In order to grab the inside track for the Intermountain Conference’s fourth and final playoff spot, the Eagles would need to hold serve on their home court.
But a fourth-quarter comeback fell just short, and HRV dropped to 3-4 in the IMC with a 49-45 loss to the Cougars.
“We really need to work on our free throws more,” sophomore point guard Kristen Hedges said. “When a game comes down to the wire, free throws are critical. They’re given to you, so you have to make them.”
HRV has struggled from the line all season long, which has caused them to lose some close games. An 0-8 effort in the fourth quarter (9-27 for the game) on Friday sealed the Eagles’ fate.
“That had to be the biggest factor in our defeat,” coach Tracy Norton said. “When you lose a game by four points, you can really see how much those missed free throws can hurt.”
But the fourth quarter wasn’t all bad. After being down by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Eagles cut the lead to three late in the game behind superb shooting by senior Becki Flory, who finished with a team-high 21.
Flory showed her range down the stretch, and almost single-handedly kept HRV in the game. But, in the end, turnovers and a lack of decision-making on offense sent the Eagles to defeat.
“We rushed too much,” said freshman guard Stefanie Draper. “If we would have taken our time and found the open shot more, I think we would have won.”
The Eagles will have another chance to prove themselves against the Cougars, when they travel to Bend on Feb. 22 — coincidentally, the last game of the season for both teams.
“We still want to finish strong in league,” Draper said. “That’s what’s driving us right now.”
“Making the playoffs would be a good ending, but that’s not all we’re thinking about,” added junior guard Suni Davis. “It’s definitely something we want, but to finish with a .500 record in the conference would be an accomplishment.”
As recently as three weeks ago, that possibility seemed like a stretch. But three wins in four games (four of six overall) put the Eagles in the middle of the race.
Two of those wins (Bend and Crook County) were by one point, and the other (Summit) was by just four points, helping the girls discover a new-found confidence that was lacking during their 0-7 start.
“We know we can beat those three teams again,” Hedges said. “We think we can get Mountain View as well. Now that we know how they play, we’ll be better prepared. If we can just limit our mistakes, we’ll be right there with ‘em.”
Hedges also said that the Eagles have yet to play a complete game, and need to be more patient on offense if they are to win more close games down the stretch.
HRV will have plenty of practice time before they begin round two of IMC play. After Tuesday’s game at Hermiston (results not available at press time), the Eagles have a week off before traveling to Bend and Redmond on Feb. 7-8.
“We need to improve our rebounding and commit fewer turnovers,” Norton said. “If we do that, we’ll remain in the hunt.”