Photo by Ben Mitchell
CROSSTOWN SHOWDOWN: The HRV and Horizon boys basketball teams played each other Thursday for the first time since 2014 and the Eagles made up for lost time by defeating the Hawks 81-26 for the team’s biggest margin of victory in nearly 23 years. Above, HRV’s JJ Mears calls for a timeout after corralling a loose ball at Vannet Court, while Horizon’s Derek Johnston (No. 4) and Ian Walker (black jersey look on.
As of Friday, January 13, 2017
The start to the HRV boys basketball team’s season hasn’t been ideal, but there’s still been plenty to like about it as the Eagles look ahead to the start of Columbia River Conference competition next week.
The team has four wins in 11 games this season, and, like other teams in the Gorge, has struggled to get games in because of inclement weather. Most of those wins have come at the hands poorly-performing opponents. However, considering that last year’s far more experienced roster only won four games all season, including just one nonleague game, in some ways, the road-weary Eagles are ahead of schedule.
Of those seven losses, two came by way of heartbreakers last week. HRV lost 51-48 at St. Helens on Jan. 4 and then lost 41-39 at 4A Corbett the very next day. JJ Mears and Dakota Kurahara — two of HRV’s most productive players this season, and Kurahara being one of the few players entering the 2016-17 season with varsity experience — led the team against St. Helens with 19 and 14 points, respectively. Against Corbett, Mears again led the team with nine points, followed closely by Morgan Williams (eight), Kurahara (seven), and Zack Moore (six).
First-year Head Coach Christopher Dirks — who was a standout HRV player himself earlier this decade — knows there is work to be done, but is encouraged by what he has seen from his athletes who are still figuring things out on the hardwood.
“I’m feeling confident in my team right now. I think we have progressed while taking the lumps and bumps of being a new program along the way,” he said Wednesday morning. “In our last two contests, we had the lead in the fourth (quarter) and let it slip away. Since then, we have watched film as a team and are learning how to close out games.”
Specifically, Dirks emphasized the team’s need to improve on shot selection and defensive intensity by “bring(ing) up our shooting percentage by taking better shots, and limit(ing) the uncontested jump shots and layups at the other end of the floor.”
With the exception of the Hermiston Bulldogs, who are ranked ninth in 5A and boast a 9-3 record, HRV is right with other teams in the CRC. HRV is ranked last in the league at 27th, but not far behind Pendleton (24th) and The Dalles (25th). Those two teams have five wins between them in 13 total games and none of those wins came from teams with winning records. At 52.2 points per game (both scored and allowed), HRV is ranked third for offense and second for defense in the conference.
The CRC was a weak league last season, and HRV was rewarded with a play-in game despite winning only three conference games. Dirks hopes that the league schedule will give the Eagles a confidence boost — and hopefully another play-in berth.
“Right now, we have a mentality that we can’t walk in any gym and be handed a win from anyone; we are going to have to fight for every ‘W’ we get,” he explained. “With that being said, we can compete with and beat anyone in our league. So, we feel like we have a good chance any night that we step on the floor.”
Vannet Court was rocking with rowdy HRV fans Thursday night as HRV played Horizon and walloped the Hawks 81-26 in a crosstown matchup that got chippy on more than one occasion. The 55-point difference between the two teams was HRV’s largest margin of victory since a 96-37 defeat of Valley Catholic Feb. 28, 1994.
The Hawks never had a chance in the birds of prey showdown, as the Eagles flew out in front on an 11-1 run in the first four minutes and never looked back. HRV’s defense blocked shots and disrupted passes at will while HRV shooters were dialed in — none more so than JJ Mears, who nearly outscored Horizon by himself, pouring in a season-high 24 points, of which 18 were from beyond the three-point arc. Dakota Kurahara owned the paint for the Eagles, scoring a season-high 20 points from inside.
For Horizon, Ian Walker was lead scorer with eight.
The Eagles will wrap up their nonleague schedule this Saturday at 1:45 p.m. when they the host the Columbia Bruins (4-4). Their league schedule starts Friday with a game at Pendleton (3-4). That starts at 7 p.m.