By Mike Weber

For The Hermiston Herald

THE DALLES — In order for the Umatilla High School boys basketball team to keep the Columbia Basin Conference title within their grasp, they’ll probably have to win all their remaining games.

The Vikings (7-1 league, 12-6 overall) took a step in the right direction as they held off the Wahtonka Eagles 67-53 for a crucial victory Saturday at The Dalles.

Four Vikings had double figure scoring led by junior post Tony Villanueva Jr., who had a game-high 26 points. It was key road win for coach Tony Villanueva’s Vikings, as it helped setup a showdown for first place in the conference Friday at 7:30 p.m. when Umatilla hosts Heppner (8-0).

“This was an important win since it keeps us on track to possibly win the league title,” said Villanueva. “This was a tough game against Wahtonka because their players were really hustling and they never gave up. We had a little bit of a letdown, but our kids did a good job while working hard to get a big win.”

“It’s nice having two big guys like Tony (6-foot-2) and Brian Littrell (6-foot-5) because we’re able to go inside often and get some good, easy shots,” said coach Villanueva. “If Heppner wins on Friday, they’ll probably win the title, but if we win then we’ll be tied for first place and we’ll still have a chance to either win the championship or be co-champions.”

The Vikings broke out to a 9-0 advantage and led 19-9 after one quarter. The Eagles rallied though with Casey Evans (22 points) leading the way and nearly overcame the deficit while trailing 26-25 with 1:59 left in the second quarter. Umatilla responded with a 9-3 run before Wahtonka’s Jake Foster hit a jumper as the buzzer sounded to make it 35-30 at halftime.

Wahtonka couldn’t get any closer than five points the remainder of the contest and whenever they did threaten, the Vikings just dropped in a three-point bomb. Late in the third the Eagles stayed within striking distance at 46-41, but then Wolfgram hit a long jump shot to give Umatilla a 49-41 lead after three.

Villanueva Jr. netted two free throws at the beginning of the final period to give Umatilla a 10-point lead (51-41) and the Eagles didn’t get any closer than nine points after that. The Vikings simply overpowered the Eagles with a strong inside game fueled primarily by Villanueva, who had his second highest scoring total this year.

“We’ve been playing well all season, but we really needed this win since it gives us some momentum going into our big matchup with Heppner. That’s the biggest game of the year for us, because we’ll have a chance to tie them for first place,” said Villanueva Jr. “We have several good shooters too, so if opponents double-team us in the post, then we can kick the ball out to Chris Wyland or Damian Wolggram, who can both score well from the outside.”

(For the complete story and bozscores, see the Jan. 29 edition of The Hermiston Herald)

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