The season was over in early February, but it officially came to an end last Friday in Hermiston.
The Hood River Valley boys basketball team, which entered the season with hopes of reaching the playoffs in their first Intermountain Conference campaign, closed out a miserable 2002-03 season with a 53-46 loss to the Bulldogs.
It was the Eagles’ 12th loss in the IMC and 18th overall. It was their 10th loss in 11 games, and fourth in a row.
All totaled, the Eagles were 2-12 in the IMC and 6-18 overall. They posted just one win in their final seven home games, and played most of the year without ever developing a consistent groove. But things weren’t always so bad for the Eagles this season.
It’s easy to forget that, just three months ago, this team was putting a whoopin’ on the state’s top scorer, Tyson Papenfuss, and his then-No. 8-ranked Clackamas Cavaliers.
Then, a week later, the Eagles squashed another of the state’s top scorers, Scott Gallagher of Gresham, on their way to a second consecutive home win and a respectable 2-4 start — when you consider that the four losses all came to playoff teams from 2002.
The Eagles had a tremendous upside. They had a strong senior core led by second-year starting point guard Andy Holmson, Todd Shypertt, Ryan Pratt and Jarrod Fogle.
They had experience and scrappiness, and didn’t make a lot of rash decisions. They were the hard-nosed, blue-collar team you could really get behind.
But then came the six-game losing streak, and everything else simply came unraveled.
“We started the year doing what I wanted us to do, which was working hard on defense, making smart plays and executing our offense,” said first-year head coach Phil Vesel.
“But there was a section of the season where we stopped improving. We just weren’t competing for all four quarters every game.”
Besides the intangibles, Vesel said that many of the things his team needed to be successful just didn’t come together. The Eagles needed Holmson to be a 15-20 points-per-game scorer. He finished with a team-high 11.8 ppg average.
They needed junior post Heath Goin to come into his own as a viable second scoring option. He finished with a 7.7 ppg average.
They needed Shypertt, Pratt and Fogle to establish themselves as scoring threats to take some of the pressure off Holmson.
But besides Holmson and Goin, the only player to average more than seven points per game was Shypertt (8.8 ppg), who went through a difficult midseason stretch where he averaged roughly five points per game.
“Todd went through kind of a slump,” Vesel said, “but it was good to see him bounce back in the last four or five games and become the consistent player I knew he could be.”
Another player Vesel applauded for his consistent effort was Pratt — a four-year member of the program taking his first varsity reps in 2002-03.
“By the end, Ryan was my most consistent player,” Vesel said. “He was easily the most improved and, hands-down, the best rebounder on the team. I think he was still getting better at the end of the season.”
Besides the starters, the Eagles will also say goodbye to seniors Sam Murillo, Tyler Monzie and Mitchell Bohn. Next year’s young core will be built around returning varsity players Pete Dills, Brian Crosswhite, Jeremy Belcher and Goin.
Sophomores Dennis Methvin, Justin Krizman and Dominic Buttaccio will help complement the roster which will also include juniors Todd Price, David Chance and Paul Kline.
“We have enough experience coming back that we can put things together,” Vesel said.
Junior forward Brian Crosswhite earned the final Hustle Player of the Week award for taking two charges in Friday’s final game at Hermiston. Senior point guard Andy Holmson won the Hustle Player of the Year with four weekly awards.