The Hood River Valley Boys Basketball team continued their successful season with a 66-57 win over The Dalles Riverhawks on Tuesday night at home. Let’s set the stage: Hood River is in the midst of its best regular season of this millennium, celebrating Senior Night and hosting its rival, The Dalles. Both teams are backed by swells of students that dominate the bleachers on either side of the court; the gym is packed and the tensions are high.
“It’s always fun playing against The Dalles,” said senior Carson Flores. “The crowd gets into it and that’s all good, but being Senior Night it was good to get a win and keep that momentum.”
Before the tip-off came, this game promised to be intense. As part of their starting lineup routine, the Eagle players toss tied up shirts into the crowds as souvenirs. German Diaz, a senior at HRV and the life of the team, tossed his at The Dalles student section. The shirt was promptly returned to midcourt by a fan, where Diaz picked it up and tried again, hurling the shirt deep into the student section with a laugh. The shirt was fired back at him with a roar from The Dalles students. Diaz then threw the shirt to Hood River fans, where it was happily received. That exchange, the energy it exhibited and the tension between the two teams, set the tone for the rest of the evening.
“The Dalles is known for talking, but Carson and I feed off that,” said Diaz. “Right away I knew I was going to show them who’s boss and who’s the best team out here.”
Flores and Diaz did just that as they led the Eagles hot out of the gates in a game marked by hectic pacing and sporadic scoring. In the first quarter alone, Flores pulled off a beautiful finger-roll layup under two defenders and Diaz swatted away an attempted layup by one The Dalles player. The officials also gave verbal warnings to a player from The Dalles, as the talk between players, Flores included, was escalating to a noticeable degree. The quarter ended with Hood River up 19-11, their strong pressure defense keeping the Riverhawks from settling into a rhythm.
In traditional Eagle fashion, Hood River came out faster and more aggressive in the second quarter than in the first. Flores led the way, knocking down three three-point shots, including one several feet beyond the arc. Diaz put in a three of his own, the first of four in what would be his best shooting night yet. Normally hot junior Noah Webster didn’t find his usual success as he missed a few good looks from three, though he did attack the basket successfully several times.
Hood River widened their lead through the second quarter, forcing numerous turnovers and proving efficient with their offensive possessions. The momentum surged for them, cemented with an emphatic and-1 play by Cruise Hawk on a put back layup with a few minutes to go in the half. The Eagles led 35-23, with The Dalles barely staying in the game thanks largely to the efforts of their senior guard Josh Nisbet who ended with 30 points on the night. The chaotic playstyle by both teams in the first half calmed in the third quarter, evident of strong coaching during halftime.
“This is always a crazy environment,” said coach Chris Dirks. “Staying calm and focused is something we talked a lot about this week, and we’ve been in intense games like this before. It took a little bit of time and telling them to relax and play their game, but then they were able to do that.”
The third quarter was a near mirror of the second, with Hood River maintaining their double digit lead with Diaz taking the mantle from Flores after connecting on three threes of his own and briefly demoralizing The Dalles with another run-down blocked shot. It wasn’t all glamorous for the Eagles, however, as they gave up several easy points to the Riverhawks with overly aggressive steal attempts and lazy help-side defense. Still, they went into the fourth quarter up 52-38 and with all the momentum.
“I always knew I could shoot the ball, I just needed that confidence and tonight I had it,” said Diaz.
“He’s been so patient with his game and tonight he picked his moments and made some great shots,” said Dirks.
The fourth quarter was, momentarily, a nightmarish reemergence of the preseason Hood River style; losing their calm nature on offensive, turning the ball over and watching their impressive lead dwindle to a few minor points. With some effective full court pressure defense, The Dalles forced a handful of reciprocal turnovers, converting each one into quick buckets. Hood River put up a few competing points of their own, but the damage was done and the score came to 62-55 with 1:28 left. Webster and Diaz were in danger of fouling out with four fouls apiece, and the Riverhawk crowd was smelling blood and going crazy. Needing the ball back, The Dalles fouled Diaz and sent him to the free throw line, where the roar of jeering fans was deafening. Yet, as he had all game, Diaz sank both free throws.
“I just got in the zone,” said Diaz. “I couldn’t hear anything but myself and the ball.”
With his two points the Eagles went up 64-55 with one minute left in the game. The Dalles could not convert despite several free throw attempts and shot opportunities. With just 14 seconds left in the game, Hood River found itself back at the free throw line, this time with Flores to deliver the two points. As he did so successfully, Diaz paced the backcourt, pointing to the gym floor and shouting to the Hood River crowd “This is our house!” Hood River would win 66-57 — their house indeed.
“It feels great to have this season go the way it has,” said Diaz. “We’ve been working for this team since last summer because we knew we had this potential.”
“This season has been amazing, it’s good to get another win and keep that momentum going,” said Flores.
HRV improved to 7-0 in league with the win and are heading into the District tournament as the number one seed. The currently rank 15th in the state for 5A schools, and look to extend this season well into the playoffs.
“I told the guys: ‘you get to play until you lose and that’s all there is.’ I think we can play with anyone and they’re smart kids, they understand that,” said Dirks.
“We’re going to Gill Coliseum, we’re going to play at the state playoffs,” said Diaz. “That’s the goal.”
As for now, the Eagles will play Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against Redmond, and from there will play a guaranteed game Monday, with the possibility of playing Tuesday as well. All games will be played at home. Scoring for the Eagles in their win over The Dalles were Diaz with 22, Flores with 17, Webster with 11, Hawk with eight, and Ian Searcy and Brandon Smiley with four each.