Relentless defense, teamwork and contributions from role players boosted the Hood River Valley High School varsity girls hoops team to a 56-50 win over Sprague on Jan. 10 at Vannet Court.
The Eagles went up 4-0 on the first of 18 points by Kelsey Wells, and never trailed, holding a lead of between 6-12 points for the entire game. Kainalu Bailey contributed 12 points while making repeated defensive stops, and Kassidy Davidson added 10 points before leaving the game with a concussion — the product of her defensive fearlessness that came after three second-half steals, and a couple of down-court strikes to streaking teammates for scores.
Breanna Weekly’s eight points and four by sophomore Anyisa Ybarra, in her longest varsity stint yet, helped the balanced scoring attack.
“We played great team ball in the second quarter, outscoring them by 12 points,” coach Scott Walker said. “The defense was key for us, because we had 28 turnovers. We did shoot the ball a lot better, so when we got shots our conversion rate was higher. I just think the ball pressure was the key for us. Kassidy Davidson and our guards really put the pressure on them.”
Weekly had three steals, and Ybarra two, and Mattson added two blocked shots. Meanwhile, Sprague’s full-court press yielded three steals in the first three minutes, and the tightly contested first quarter ended up 16-16.
The Eagles had been impatient on offense, frequently getting open but forcing shots. They were sharing the ball but layups were not falling. In the second, they got several scores via quick long passes finding open players at the hoop or heading to it. Long baseball-style passes, including one on the run from Wells to fleet Jestena Mattson, fueled much of the Eagle offense and provided several thrilling attempts throughout the game.
Wells scored twice to start the second, and the tally was 24-18 after a textbook feed from Bailey to Weekly.
Later, Bailey angled to the hoop on a cut and took the assist from Veatch to make it 30-23, and after two more steals it was 35-23, then 40-25 on a Weekly put-back, giving the Eagles their biggest lead of the night.
Ybarra made an immediate impact coming off the bench in the second half. The sophomore guard took a long pass and niftily bounced the ball to Wells for a score; it was the first of two quick assist-the-assist passes in the quarter by Ybarra. On one play, she broke the Oly press and flipped a long pass to Wells who immediately dished to Bailey for layup. Then Mattson rolled over going for a loose ball near the Eagle hoop, and Sprague came up with the loose ball, breaking fast for the other end. Ybarra chased the larger Oly down and put the hammer on her to prevent the basket, for the second of her four fouls.
A few minutes later, Ybarra faked to go low, and popped back to the perimeter as players fell in another scrum in the lane. Coming up with the ball was Wells, who kicked out to Ybarra. She nailed the jumper.
It was a low-scoring fourth, with key free throws by Bailey and Veatch, and late scores by Bloomster and Bailey helping keep a scrapping Sprague at bay. Every touch got tied up or poked, every possession narrowly contested, and it was poor shooting and defensive rebounding by Wells and Bloomster that denied Sprague many second chances. Wells’ two free throws put it out of touch, 56-48 with a minute left.
The win puts the HRV girls at 4-8 in the preseason with one more game (Jan. 17 vs. Aloha) remaining before the start of conference action the following week. The team’s first home conference game is Jan. 31, 7 p.m. vs. Hermiston. The Dalles Wahtonka currently holds the best conference record at 10-1.