Adrian Mendez tends to fly under the radar, but Saturday night the Hermiston senior made his presence known.
Mendez scored 18 points — 13 in the first half — and hauled down eight rebounds to help the Bulldogs to a 72-64 victory over Kennewick in the Mid-Columbia Conference opener for both teams at the Lions Den.
Cesar Ortiz also had 18 points and eight rebounds as Hermiston improved to 3-0 on the season.
“It feels good,” Hermiston coach Casey Arstein said of opening league play with a win. “Adrian had his best game of the year, and Jordan (Ramirez) did a nice job distributing the ball. Cesar is a shooter and he was ready to go. It’s exciting when they play well. It was Adrian’s night, and the guys were excited for him.”
The Bulldogs, who trailed 36-33 at the half, went on a 22-point tear in third quarter, fueled by Ortiz’s 12 points — nine of which came from three 3-pointers.
With the Lions (3-1 overall, 0-1 MCC) holding a 42-40 lead, Ortiz drilled a 3 from downtown Pasco to put the Bulldogs out front for good, 43-42.
Cole Smith followed with a trey from the right baseline, and Ortiz added another deep ball from the right wing for a 49-42 lead.
Kennewick would pull within 53-50, but a basket by Ramirez at the buzzer gave Hermiston a five-point lead.
A balanced scoring attack in the fourth quarter, which included an 8-for-12 performance at the free-throw line, helped the Bulldogs secure the win.
“This is one of the better games we have played,” Mendez said. “Everyone played well tonight. We had to help each other out and we worked worked hard as a team and pulled it out. We help each other out, we will be better off.”
Ryne Andreason added 14 points, and Ramirez 11, and Hermiston forced 10 turnovers, including steal and a layup by Ramirez with 45 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
Hermiston vs. La Grande
The last time Hermiston played La Grande, Kaden Green Chandler dropped 20 points on the Bulldogs.
Adrian Mendez helped hold Green Chandler to four points as Hermiston cruised to a 67-47 nonleague win Dec. 4 at the Dawg House.
Ryne Andreason led the way for the Bulldogs with 18 points, and Cesar Ortiz added 11 rebounds and seven points, but there was one stat that was not pretty — the Bulldogs shot 25 of 46 (54 percent) from the free-throw line.
“We are usually a pretty good free throw team,” Hermiston coach Casey Arstein said. ”Kind of killed the momentum. Cesar and Ryno (Andreason) didn’t shoot the ball well, but I saw some good things.”
Namely the second quarter.
Leading 12-9, the Bulldogs went on a 27-8 tear in the second, getting 10 points from Andreason and five from Ortiz. The Bulldogs could have blown the game wide open if not for their 9 of 20 performance from the charity stripe.
Trailing 39-17 at the half, the Tigers made a little noise of their own in the third quarter with 15 points, and outscored the Bulldogs 15-11 in the fourth. But the deficit was far too big to overcome for La Grande, which had three players foul out.
All but two of the Bulldogs scored, with Jordan Ramirez adding 10 points, Blake Davis and Sergio Madrigal seven each, and Andrew James six.
Justin Jenner led the Tigers with 12 points, while Cristian Mendoza had seven.