PENDLETON — Heppner seniors Kacie Gray, Morgan Correa and Sophie Grant sat side by side at the end of the Mustangs bench as the final seconds of their prep basketball careers ticked away on Friday morning.
The Mustangs lost to Grant Union 62-46 in the consolation round of the Class 2A state tournament at the Pendleton Convention Center, ending their season. However, the seniors’ faces didn’t show signs of sadness or disappointment. Instead, they were rather upbeat, soaking in the last moments of the kind of season they could have only dreamed about for the first three years wearing the blue and gold.
“This season was crazy and we loved every minute of it,” Grant said afterward. “We were really a family and each and every one of us love each other and it was a great experience to have.
“We came here as the underdog and we really surprised people, so it was an awesome experience.”
Even with the loss, the three seniors went out on a high note. They combined for 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists and all played solid defense against a talented Prospectors squad. Head coach Robert Wilson was proud of the growth the seniors showed in their career and the amount of leadership they showed this season.
“When I took over three years ago,” Wilson said, “we were really young and this group embraced the situation they’ve had to deal with and have been leaders with the younger kids, keeping them engaged with a great team vibe.”
Grant and Correa were in the starting lineup on Friday when the Mustangs (16-8) got off to a slow start in trying to meet Grant Union’s fast tempo. Grant Union (22-4) scored the first nine points of the game and later opened up a 29-10 lead with 3:52 left in the second quarter, putting the Mustangs in early trouble.
Except Heppner wasn’t ready to go away. The Mustangs ended the half on a 9-0 run, capped by a jumper from Gray, to head to the break trailing by just 10 points at 29-19.
“We never gave up,” Grant said. “We knew we could play with each and every team here, and we knew if we kept trying and played our game we could be with every team.”
That fight from the Mustangs continued throughout the second half. After Grant Union got the lead back to 17 points early in the third quarter, the Mustangs chipped away and back-to-back 3-pointers from Sydney Wilson and Gray made it a 43-33 game at the end of the third.
In the fourth, the Mustangs got the deficit to single digits on several occasions, coming as close as seven points after Jacee Currin nailed a short jumper with 6:28 to make it a 46-39 game.
But that was as close as Heppner could get. Each time the Mustangs would get the lead under double digits, Grant Union’s pressure defense would answer to force a few turnovers that lead to easy baskets and get the lead back above 10.
“We knew Grant Union was going to pressure us the whole game,” Wilson said. “And we did really well at times, but when a team does that the whole time, there’s moments whether it’s fatigue or something that leads to little runs. But for the most part we did a god job of handling it.”
Grant Union’s offense was a one-girl show for the most part, with Kaylee Wright knocking in a game-high 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting and going 8-of-12 from the free throw line. She also added seven steals, seven rebounds and two assists. The Prospectors will now play on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at the Convention Center against the winner of No. 3 Oakland and No. 7 Gold Beach for fourth place.
Sydney Wilson, Heppner’s standout freshman, led the team with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds and two assists. Junior Jacee Currin added 11 points with three boards, two assists, and two steals. Both players are part of nine contributors set to return for the Mustangs next season, which could mean some high expectations for the team next season.
“For us, our expectation is to be back here,” Robert Wilson said. “We talked about soaking this up and enjoying it ... we need to understand the level of competition it takes to play here at this level because it’s a different type of game than preseason and regular season.”
And even though the seniors will be moving on, they are excited to see what the future holds for the team and will likely be keeping close tabs next season.
“I see great things,” Grant said emphatically. “These young girls are awesome and we have so much coming up from the youth, it’ll be great and I’m so excited for them.”
HHS 7 12 14 13 — 46
GU 16 13 14 19 — 62
HEPPNER — S. Wilson 17, J. Currin 11, S. Grant 8, K. Gray 6, M. Correa 2, M. Combe, M. Nichols, J. McCullough, J. Mahoney, M. Ashbeck, M. Mitchell.
GRANT UNION — K. Wright 30, H. Wright 8, H. McCullough 8, T. Huchison 5, M. Moulton 4, K. Wells 4, M. Culley 3.
3-pointers — HHS 4, GU 3. Free throws — HHS 16-23, GU 15-22. Fouls — HHS 15, GU 14.