PENDLETON — As a first-year varsity player last season, Hermiston’s Cesar Ortiz carved out a role as a streaky, but lethal, 3-point shooter off the bench.
As a junior this year, Ortiz has really worked to develop more aspects of his game and get away from being a one-dimensional player. He flashed the growth of his game during Friday’s matchup with Pendleton, working for rebounds in the post, driving to the hoop to create offense, and showing quicker feet on defense to help slow down a talented Pendleton offense.
However, Ortiz’s lethal shooting touch from behind the arch is still there, too, which he used to knock down four key 3-pointers and score a team-high 18 points to help his Bulldogs knock off the Buckaroos 66-55 in front of a packed house at Pendleton’s Warberg Court. The victory snapped a five-game skid in the rivalry series for Hermiston dating back to 2016, and keeps the Bulldogs in the hunt for a conference title.
“This feels really good,” Ortiz said of the victory. “We came in prepared and I thought we played very well.”
Hermiston coach Casey Arstein described Ortiz as a “gym rat,” and hasn’t been surprised with the way the junior has improved this season.
“He wasn’t just jacking up threes. Sometimes he does, but he’s still a shooter and shooters are going to shoot and I’m okay with that sometimes,” Arstein said. “He played a smart game and I thought he played really well in the second half.”
The Bulldogs (9-11 overall, 4-2 Columbia River Conference) trailed 19-16 at the end of a fast-paced first quarter, and midway through the second, the momentum was starting to swing in the Buckaroos’ favor with a 27-21 lead.
However, two quick buckets from Patrick Wicks had the Bulldogs right back in the game and then a 3-pointer and made free throw from Ortiz put the Dawgs on top 32-31 at the break.
Both teams took care of the ball in the half with only five combined turnovers, and were matching shot-for-shot on field goals as Hermiston shot 38 percent (11 for 29) and Pendleton 42 percent (11 for 26). In the locker room, Ortiz said the Bulldogs simply talked about continuing the type of play that had helped the Bulldogs earn the halftime advantage.
“Just limiting our turnovers and being patient with the ball,” Ortiz recalled. “We knew that was going to win us the game and that’s what we did, and we came away with (the ‘W’).”
In the second half, Hermiston’s defense tightened up and Pendleton’s offense simply dried up, especially from deep. The Buckaroos (12-9, 4-2) were 4 for 8 from three in the first half, but finished 3 for 15 in the second half, including a stretch of 10 straight misses between the third and fourth quarters. On top of the limited offense, Pendleton got a little carless with the ball and tallied eight turnovers in the second half.
Pendleton fought back to re-take a 37-36 lead with 4:09 left in the game after two technical fouls on Hermiston’s Jordan Ramirez and the team’s bench sent Buckaroos’ Dakota Sams to the free throw line where he made three off the four shots. But that would be the Buckaroos’ only lead of the half as Hermiston tied it back up at 39-39 just 30 seconds later and then took back the lead 42-39 on a 3-pointer by Ortiz with 3:10 left.
“We didn’t make the plays tonight,” Pendleton coach Kyle Tedder said. “At the end of the day, I believe we’re the better team, but when you don’t make plays or rebound, you’re going to get beat ... We just did not play well.”
Hermiston’s lead was only six with two minutes left, but as Pendleton still couldn’t buy a bucket they had to resort to fouling the Bulldogs taking their chances with the Dawgs’ free-throw shooting. And the Bulldogs followed through, as they nailed 10-of-13 shots in the fourth quarter and 16-of-22 for the game, which grew the lead and helped seal the victory.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Arstein said. “We played good at times and average at times, but the kids stuck together and that was huge. I just thought it was a great team effort and the guys stayed positive.”
Andrew Earl made his first start of the season for Hermiston in place of Ramirez, who is battling an injury, and played well with 14 points with a pair of first quarter 3-pointers. Adrian Mendez also gave Hermiston a big 11 points, with six of that coming in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of our guys stepped up tonight and we’re pretty happy with that,” Ortiz said.
For the Buckaroos, Dakota Sams had a game-high 20 points with the help of five 3-pointers and Tyler Newsom was limited to 15 points, including just four in the second half. Dante Jackson chipped in a solid night with seven points off the bench.
As both teams now head to the home stretch of the regular season with only three conference games left, both coaches know there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played. Pendleton will head to Hood River Valley on Tuesday looking for revenge on the Eagles’ upset victory at home last week, and needs to re-discover the groove on both ends of the floor that contributed to Pendleton’s early dominance in the CRC.
“We’ll be fine,” Tedder said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board a little bit. We’re the better team here, we just have to get back to playing better and making better plays.”
As for Hermiston, Arstein knows that the Bulldogs can’t afford to get too confident following Friday’s win. Next up is a home tilt with The Dalles, a team that knocked of the Bulldogs just seven days ago.
“We only have a couple days to rest until Tuesday with The Dalles, and we’re 1-1 with them so we have our work cut out for us,” Arstein said. “But hopefully when we see Pendleton again at home again, it’ll possibly be playing for a conference championship. But right now, we have to just take it one game at a time.”
HHS 16 16 13 21 — 66
PHS 19 12 12 12 — 55
HERMISTON — C. Ortiz 18, A. Earl 14, A. Mendez 11, R. Andreason 7, A. James 7, P. Wicks 5, J. Ramirez 2, T. McCullough 2.
PENDLETON — D. Sams 20, T. Newsom 15, D. Jackson 7, R. Scott 4, S. Jerome 3, C. Sandord 2, W. Camp 2, R. Russell 2, G. Lee.
3-pointers — HHS 8, PHS 7. Free throws — HHS 16-22, PHS 8-13. Fouls — HHS 14 (Technicals — J. Ramirez, Bench), PHS 18 (Fouled out — Newsom).