It hasn’t been the prettiest path to the post-season, but after a regular season with considerably fewer ups than downs, HRV has made it.

The Eagles (4-17, 3-6 Columbia River Conference), snagged the final available play-in spot in the CRC after defeating The Dalles (5-18, 2-7) 66-56 on the Riverhawks’ home court Tuesday night. The No. 32 Eagles will face the No. 11 Milwaukie Mustangs (13-10, 9-6 league) of the Northwest Oregon Conference on Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m. in Milwaukie. The winner of that game advances to the 16-team OSAA state tournament, which starts March 5.

With both The Dalles and HRV entering Tuesday’s game with identical 2-6 league records and with the season series between the two teams knotted at 1-1, both the Eagles and the Riverhawks were presented with a win-and-in situation for post-season play. Last week, both Pendleton and Hermiston locked up the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the CRC, respectively, leaving only the third and final post-season spot available.

For a team that has struggled on the road this season, including a heartbreaking 72-70 loss at The Dalles in early February, HRV made the most of its opportunities on the Riverhawks’ hardwood Tuesday night, playing a disciplined brand of ball for the majority of 32 minutes. After trading baskets during the opening minutes, HRV pushed to a 20-15 lead at the end of the first quarter and didn’t relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game, although The Dalles, on more than one occasion, made the contest interesting, including a 7-0 run at the end of the first half that cut HRV’s lead to three.

Overall, HRV Head Coach Steve Noteboom was pleased with his Eagles, who limited turnovers, banged the boards, closed out shooters, and executed their own shots well.

“We did a nice job of taking care of the basketball. Except for that little stretch towards the end there, we only had 10-12 turnovers in the first three quarters… defensively we just did a really nice job of stopping any penetration into the lane and also getting on their shooters,” he said.

“That little stretch” came in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, when the Eagles, who enjoyed a 20-point lead in the fourth thanks to a 13-2 run to start the third, saw their advantage drop to nearly single digits as The Dalles converted a sudden flurry of HRV turnovers into points. The Riverhawks were able to mount a late but ultimately futile rally that caused Noteboom to have flashbacks to the team’s previous trip to The Dalles, which saw the Eagles lose their lead in the final minute of the game.

“It was certainly on my mind, since I knew (The Dalles) had a couple guys who could score quickly,” he said.

It was a hiccup in what was otherwise a well-executed game by HRV, who took advantage of The Dalles’ cold shooters in the third quarter to build enough of a cushion to withstand the Riverhawks’ rally. HRV shot 4-for-5 on free throws and 5-for-9 on two-pointers in the third quarter alone.

Overall, HRV had one of its better shooting nights of the season, and certainly one of the best on the road, as the Eagles shot 18-for-37 (49 percent) on two-pointers and were 18-for-25 from the foul line (72 percent). Three-point shooting, which has been an issue for HRV all season, improved as well, although it was not a high point of the Eagles’ statistics Tuesday night, who went 4-for-13 (31 percent) from the arc.

Noteboom has said before that HRV is a team that thrives on the positive energy generated by its fans, as evidenced by the team’s significantly higher shooting percentages that occur during home games. And while HRV was playing on the road, a large contingent of HRV fans occupied what was a surprisingly roomy Riverhawks gym Tuesday night, quieting The Dalles fans by singing the HRV fight song and loudly cheering as the Eagles pulled away in the third quarter.

“I was really pleased with the student body turnout,” Noteboom said. “Even in school during the day, it just seemed like there were more kids going to the game. I don’t know this for sure, but it seemed like we had almost as many people rooting for us as The Dalles had rooting for them. That always gets our kids excited and in a better mental state to play basketball.”

As they have done all season, HRV relied heavily on the talents of Parker Kennedy, Ty Stintzi, and Noah Noteboom, who provided the vast majority of the Eagles’ offense, putting up 22, 16, and 16 points, respectively. The team relied more heavily than usual on those three as Noteboom said that Dallas Buckley, also a key component of the team, had limited minutes after getting in foul trouble early.

Stintzi and Zak Ellsworth led in the rebounding category with seven boards apiece, while Kennedy and Buckley recorded five and four assists, respectively. Buckley added three steals, as did Noteboom, who scored a candy bar for taking a charge during the game.

HRV had its final regular season game Friday — a nonleague contest against Ridgeview — which Noteboom said was inconsequential as far as standings go, but a good prep for Tuesday’s game against Milwaukie.

“Even though it doesn’t mean much, it could help us with keeping us mentally sharp and in game mode. Otherwise, we’d have a week off and this time of year, you’d almost rather play games than have practice,” he explained.

As for Milwaukie and HRV, the two teams have not faced each other yet this season and have few common opponents, only sharing Putnam, La Salle, and Woodburn. HRV lost to all three opponents, while Milwaukie split games with La Salle, defeated Putnam twice, and beat Woodburn once.

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