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Down to the final seconds

January 7, 2006

With home games this week against Pendleton and Summit high schools, the Hood River Valley High School varsity are making forward progress and shaping up to be a playoff contending team in the Intermountain Conference.

Tuesday the Eagles faced and defeated Pendleton 60-55 and on Thursday they lost to Summit 50-46. Both games came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, giving the young Hood River squad valuable experience keeping composure and playing under pressure.

“Although we’re one and two in the league now, we are also two possessions away from being three and zero,” said Coach Vesel. “There is a positive in the two losses and we need to learn from then because we will play both teams again this season.”

Earning the team’s weekly Hustle Player of the Week honors this week is KC Christensen, who led the Eagles in scoring and in hustle points both games.

Vs. Pendleton

After four quarters of swapping leads and fighting for every ball, Tuesday night’s game came down to the final 30 seconds of the final quarter. With the clock ticking quickly down to zero, Hood River’s Juan Zuniga made five of six free throws to seal a five-point victory for the Eagles.

“The game was a good step forward for us,” said Coach Phil Vesel. “We did a better job of taking care of the ball, executing and handling pressure.”

The first quarter was a battle. The Eagles jumped out to an early 8-3 lead, with four points coming from two solid drives to the hoop from Tim Chance. Pendleton answered back, however, taking their first lead of the game with 20 seconds left in the quarter. Behind by two and with the last possession of the quarter, the Eagles fed the ball to sophomore guard Juan Zuniga, who drained an outside fade-away three pointer to take back the lead at the buzzer.

Zuniga did the same at the end of the second quarter, with another buzzer-beating three pointer to bring the game to 28-27, Pendleton.

Chance helped the Eagles retake the lead in the opening of the third quarter with a bucket and free-throw. The Buckaroos kept pace with solid shooting of their own, however, and Hood River was down by two at the end of the third.

The crowd fired up in the fourth and suspense built as both teams kicked into overdrive in the final minutes.

“We executed very well down the stretch,” Vesel commented.

The score escalated to 50-50 with two minutes remaining. The Eagles scored five in a row, with a three-point play coming from a fired-up Christensen.

Pendleton threw up two desperate three-pointers, both of which were thwarted by tight HRV defense.

With less than a minute remaining, the Buckaroos resorted to a foul-game. Their first attempt paid off. Hood River missed a free-throw, and Pendleton rebounded and sunk a bank three-pointer to bring the score to within two with 28 seconds remaining. The Eagles put the ball in the hands of Zuniga, who went to the line three times in the game’s final seconds. He would make five of six to seal the game for the Eagles.

“He did a great job,” Vesel said of Zuniga. “He showed lots and the mentality of a clutch player.”

Zuniga ended with 15 points, as did Christensen. Chance and Mark Oppenheimer finished with 12 points and as a team, the Eagles shot at about 60-percent from the floor.

“We had a very balanced-scoring game,” said Vesel. “And that is what we need to continue to do to be successful.”

Vs. Summit

The battle against Summit was similar to Tuesday’s game. Both teams exchanged leads throughout the game and neither was able to pull away by more than a few points at any one time.

Hood River’s biggest lead of the game came at the end of the first half when Jon Ing and Zuniga made back-to-back three-pointers, followed by two made free-throws from Ing for a 25-20 lead going into halftime.

The end of the third quarter ended at 40-40, which built pressure and anticipation going into the fourth.

By the end of the quarter, Summit had hit five of six three pointers to take a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining. Oppenheimer made a key steal at mid-court, giving the Eagles a huge opportunity to take back the lead. As he picked up the steal, however, a somewhat iffy offensive foul was called on Oppenheimer, putting Summit on the line for one-and-one. The shooter made both, leaving the Eagles behind by three with 15 seconds remaining. Summit pressured hard and Zuniga shot a desperation three from a double-team. With a poor look at the basket, his shot was off and Summit picked up the rebound and the Eagles chance was over.

“They did a great job of capitalizing on our mistakes,” Vesel said. “The game was well-coached on both sides and it came down to the very end … I though we played pretty well for the most part. We did a good job of giving ourselves opportunities down the stretch and that’s all we can do.”

Leading scorers were Christensen with 14 points, Zuniga and Chance with nine points, Ing with eight and Openheimer with five.

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