In the Columbia River Conference boys basketball opener between the Hood River Valley Eagles and the Hermiston Bulldogs, one thing was certain: A long losing streak would continue for one team.
It was a confident and determined Eagles (1-0 CRC, 1-9 overall) squad that snapped a 27-game skid dating back to Dec. 14, 2010 with a valiant come-from-behind 57-53 win over the Bulldogs (0-1, 1-10) Friday at Hood River Valley High School. It marked HRV's first CRC victory, following a 0-12 league mark a year ago and got first-year head coach Steve Noteboom his first win. It also marked Hermiston's eighth straight loss; a dramatic change from a year ago when the Bulldogs went 18-8 and won the CRC title.
"I don't think many people expected us to beat Hermiston," said Noteboom. "It sure feels great to get our first-ever league win and that's exciting. This is just the beginning and with some fine-tuning of our game, I think we'll continue to improve and hopefully our momentum will continue."
Things looked bleak for the Eagles early in the second when Hermiston took a double-digit 21-10 lead after a 7-2 run. Things got worse before it got better for HRV. Hermiston took advantage of Eagle turnovers and missed shots and extended the margin to 30-15 midway through the quarter, forcing an Eagle timeout.
The Eagles responded with an 8-0 spurt with baskets by Wheat, senior guard Cole Hunter (11 points) and senior forward Tory Schmidt (six points), trimming the margin to 30-23 at halftime.
"This is a great way to start league and it gives us lots of momentum, which hopefully will continue throughout the season," said Hunter. "We can put all the nonleague games behind us now."
The Bulldogs had things going their way for most of the third, though, and built a double-digit lead at 46-36. With the clock ticking down in the quarter, the momentum started to shift in the Eagles' favor. Junior guard Luke Kopecky (three points, seven rebounds) ignited a rally with a steal and breakaway layup just before the buzzer sounded, making it 46-38 after three.
The Eagles took control of the contest in the fourth. Senior guard Cody Walker (four points) capped a 12-5 run with a 10-foot jumper in the lane, making it 51-50 with 2:09 left, forcing a Bulldog timeout. Wheat scored six in the game-changing rally to help lead the Eagles' comeback effort.
"It sure feels good to finally get a win," said Wheat. "I was a little worried before the game, but after we started to get into a good rhythm, then I knew that we could win. It was tough falling behind, but we battled hard and we did a good job making a nice comeback. This was by far the best game we've played this season."
The Eagles knotted the score at 52-52 when Hunter drove into the lane and banked a clutch shot off the glass. Hunter was fouled, but missed a free throw on the potential three-point play with 1:26 remaining.
After Wheat rebounded a missed Bulldog shot at the other end, the Eagles regained possession and called a timeout with 56 seconds left.
After an inbound play, Walker passed to Wheat in the paint and Wheat used his height advantage to sink a key jumper that proved to be the game-winning basket.
Wheat was fouled and converted a three-point play for a 55-52 Eagle advantage with 44 seconds left.
On Hermiston's ensuing possession, Ramon Contreras was fouled and went to the line as a nearly full Vannet Court home crowd yelled loudly to distract him. The noise and enthusiastic vocal support provided by HRV's fans helped lift the Eagles to victory as Contreras missed both free throws. Both teams struggled at the line as Hermiston shot 42 percent (9-for-21) and HRV shot 50 percent (9-for-18).
"It's nice seeing such great support from our fans and that's what we need to have at our home games," said Noteboom.
HRV outscored Hermiston 19-7 in the fourth to get the win.
"It's always easier to come out and play with a strong effort on your home court," said Noteboom. "We need to be disciplined enough to play the same way on the road. We struggled in preseason, but that was primarily because the kids were still trying to get familiar with what I wanted them to do."
The Eagles played on the road Tuesday against t Pendleton and return Friday to face The Dalles-Wahtonka as part of a girls-boys double header. The HRV girls, which lost to Hermiston 74-33 Friday, face TDW at 5:30 p.m. and the boys face the Eagle-Indianst at 7 p.m.