As of Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The Hood River Valley Eagles varsity boys basketball team will undoubtedly begin 2015 with a positive outlook, with their confidence bolstered after an exciting 63-61 nonleague win Saturday at home over the Madison Senators.
Skyler Hunter’s three-point, buzzer-beating jumper propelled the Eagles (5-4) to the come-from-behind victory over the Senators (1-5) in the final game of the four-team Hood River Tournament Dec. 19-20 at Vannet Court. The win gives coach Steve Noteboom’s Eagles the momentum of a winning record as they enjoy a break in action over the holidays before resuming their Class 5A schedule with a Jan. 3 road game versus the Lebanon Warriors (3-1).
“We have lots of kids who can really shoot the ball well and that’s one of the reasons why we’re playing this up-tempo style of basketball,” Noteboom said after Saturday’s game. “I felt confident that we could get a good shot at the end. The hardest part was just getting somebody into position for an open shot. I was just surprised about how wide open Skyler was and that he was able to shoot such a good shot.”
The Eagles fought back in the game and overcame an early double-digit deficit. They fell behind 18-7 after one quarter against the Class 6A Portland Interscholastic League team. The Eagles came back and outscored Madison 19-15 in the second quarter, trimming the deficit to just seven at halftime, trailing 33-26.
After falling behind by more points early in the third, Eagle senior center Scottie Ziegner (four points) sank a jumper from the corner, making it 35-28 with five minutes, 58 seconds remaining on the clock. After Madison answered with a basket to make it 37-28, HRV displayed its potent offensive attack as the team mounted a comeback.
Utilizing an aggressive full- court pressure defense, the Eagles created scoring opportunities by getting steals and then converting high percentage shots, while stifling the Senator’s offense. An impressive 15-0 Eagle rally was highlighted by back-to-back baskets in the lane by junior Dallas Buckley (18 pts.), whose 10-foot jumper knotted the score 37-37 with 2:46 left in the third. HRV took its first lead of the game at 38-37 when senior Austin Clarke (12 pts.) sank a free throw with 2:29 on the clock.
“It’s amazing to have such an incredible turnaround from a year ago, when we didn’t win any games,” said Buckley. “We’re on a roll now though this year and we love it. I feel confident that we’ll be a contender for the Columbia River Conference title too. We’ve all bonded very well together and that’s because we’ve all been playing together since we were age 10.”
Buckley’s two free throws and a three-pointer by senior forward Kaydin Gibbs (five pts.) extended HRV’s lead to 43-37. A 5-0 Senator rally trimmed the Eagle lead to 43-42 at the end of the third quarter.
Home team momentum continued in the fourth as the Eagles built their largest lead of the game with a 10-2 run. A three-pointer by Hunter (10 pts., five assists) made it 53-44, forcing a Madison timeout with 5:12 left. After a 5-0 Madison run trimmed it to 55-52, junior Parker Kennedy fired in a three-pointer from corner, giving the Eagles a 58-52 lead midway through the fourth.
“We played a little sluggish in the first half, but we know how well we’re capable of playing and we focused on playing better in the second half,” said Kennedy. “We made a nice comeback and it was a close game throughout the fourth quarter. We had trust in Skyler, and we knew he could make a big shot like that. We’re all excited about the success we’ve enjoyed so far this season and we’re having lots of fun.”
The Senators seemed to have everything going their way late in the game as they outscored the Eagles 9-2 to regain the lead at 61-60 on a shot underneath by senior Marquis Bowie (17 pts.) with just nine seconds left in the game.
The Eagles had one final chance and inbounded the ball from under the Senator basket and then quickly worked their way past midcourt while approaching the lane to try and get into scoring position for the winning basket. An Eagle pass was deflected out of bounds as the clock ticked down to just three seconds.
An inbound pass from Buckley to Hunter set up the final thrilling scenario. Hunter’s three-pointer from the corner swished through the net as the buzzer sounded.
“I was just trying to stay calm and take a good shot and I knew that I could make it,” said Hunter. “It felt amazing to make such a big shot like that and help us win such an exciting game. That was the biggest shot that I’ve ever made in my varsity basketball career. It’s going to be nice to have a week off now. We’ll come back and be ready to play even stronger and better in our next game, so I can’t wait until then.”
The game marked the seventh time that HRV totaled 60 or more points, which was something they did just once last season. The Eagles shot 47 percent from the field (23-for-48) and they shot 56 percent from the free-throw line (9-for-16). The Eagles offense is much improved as the team is averaging 67.88 points a game, up from the 42 points a game average a year ago.
“It’s nice having a winning record going into the Christmas break,” said Noteboom. “At the beginning of the season, I felt that it was possible for the team to be improved because we had a lot of returning players with varsity experience and I felt that with our new style of play, we could surprise some people.”
On Friday, the Eagles lost 68-51 to the South Albany Rebels (2-5) in HRV’s first game of the tournament. Ziegner led the Eagles in scoring with 14 points and Kennedy was in double figures as well with 12. HRV has five preseason games left before it begins Columbia River Conference play Jan. 23 on the road against the Pendleton Buckaroos. The team’s next home game is Jan. 9 versus the Woodburn Bulldogs.