Update: The HRV vs Pendleton championship game has been cancelled due to weather. Hood River Valley will play at home on Friday, Mar. 1 at 6:30 pm.
With a 68-58 overtime win over the Redmond Panthers at home on Saturday afternoon, the Hood River Valley High School Boys Basketball team has qualified for the OSAA 5A state playoffs for the first time since 1994. While their seed is still undetermined due to one remaining game against Pendleton, the Eagles punched their ticket Saturday in a tense, nail-biting contest over an aggressive Redmond team.
“The game overall was a little too exciting in my opinion,” said coach Chris Dirks. “I think it’s been a lot of uncertainty each week; it’s hard not knowing when or if we will play on a given day.”
Whatever it was, something put the Eagles off their game early on in Saturday’s contest. While their defense was strong, offensively they struggled to find a rhythm. It wasn’t their usual warming up style either, where they are fluid but simply not up to speed; the Eagles were out of sync.
“We didn’t have our edge that we have to play with,” said Dirks.
While they lacked their typical offensive flow, the Eagles managed to draw two quick fouls on Redmond star Dylan Moss, forcing him to the bench for a significant portion of the first half. Still, their defensive presence couldn’t make up for the lack of points, and the Panthers led at the end of the first quarter, 13-10.
The second quarter seemed to following the first thematically — the Eagles giving the Panthers plenty of possessions to score while not scoring much themselves — until the last few minutes. Off several defensive stops, Hood River went on a 7-0 run to bring them within one. Their push, however, would be squandered, as Redmond extended the lead back before halftime, 30-24. Still, the Eagles were beginning to come alive.
“I think we recognized that we were having a tough night shooting and put pressure on the basket rather than continuing to shoot,” said Dirks.
Hood River shot 36 percent total from the field, including 18 percent from the three point line. In the second half, they managed to close the gap despite their continued poor shooting performance. Sophomores Jack Siekkinen and Ian Searcy, as well as junior Cruise Hawk, were vital to Hood River’s second half surge; the three hustled for a combined 17 points, 22 rebounds and five steals.
“On a night when our top scorers started a little slow, the play of Searcy, Hawk and Siekkinen was huge,” said Dirks. “They provided the spark we needed. They were all about energy and effort; it’s a choice they made to dominate the effort part of the game and they were successful.”
While those three handled the hustle stats, Noah Webster, Carson Flores and German Diaz led the way offensively for the Eagles. With their constant drives and layup attempts, HRV got several Redmond players in foul trouble, putting two of their star shooters on the bench midway through the fourth quarter. Hood River had control, leading by a few points in the remaining minutes of the game. The Panthers stuck around though, putting the Eagles at the free throw line where they shot 65 percent on the night. With a 55-53 lead, the Eagles could not stop Redmond as they scored with one second remaining — into overtime they went.
“Once we got to overtime, we knew the momentum was on our side,” said Dirks. “It has been our league all year and we knew we had to be in the league championship game. We had four minutes to prove our place and we did it.”
The name of the game in overtime was heart, and playing at home with the state playoffs on the line, Hood River had it. They came out hard offensively, scoring seven unanswered points off Webster’s back-to-back steals. Overtime was only four minutes and it flew by; Redmond couldn’t score and HRV was running away. With 43 seconds to go, Diaz sank two free throws to put the Eagles up 66-56. Then, the technical fouls came. With some shoving and language exchanged between Flores, Webster and a Redmond player, the officials dealt out three technical fouls — one to each player. No players were ejected. The game ended shortly after, with a few more free throws scored by both teams.
“To be honest, that was the edge we were missing,” said Dirks on the technical fouls. “I hate to see us get technical fouls because the majority of the game had great sportsmanship, but as German has said this season, they feed off that competitiveness. Redmond handled themselves very well …we just let our emotions get the best of us.”
While an unfortunate event, the fouls did not damper the mood as Hood River celebrated the historic achievement this game marked.
The Eagles will, depending on weather, have played either Tuesday or Wednesday against Pendleton for the IMC Championship. The championship game bears great weight; if Hood River wins, they earn the eighth seed and host the first round. If they lose, they’ll play at their opponent’s location. Either way, Hood River will play in the state playoff game March 1.
“We are in the state tournament for the first time in 25 years,” said Dirks. “I was just 1 year old when we last made it this far.”
For Hood River, Webster scored 23, Flores 15, Diaz with 13, Searcy and Siekkinen with seven each and Hawk with three.