There’s no doubt it has taken awhile for the Hermiston boys basketball team to really get going, but right now, they are looking pretty good.

After claiming a 75-63 win over Lewiston (Idaho) in the final of the Hermiston Holiday Hoops Classic on Tuesday, the Dawgs are firing on all cylinders offensively and solidifying it defensive play just in time for the league schedule.

Minus a Tuesday meeting with undefeated Chiawana from Pasco, the Dawgs are staring the Columbia River Conference docket in the face — and by the way they are playing now — feel very confident.

“I don’t know who can stop us from scoring when our kids are attacking the basket well,” Hermiston coach Larry Usher said. His club went on two torrid scoring runs in the second and third quarter, leading by as much as 19 points by just simplying going hard to the rim and ending drives with a soft touch.

“We’ve got to teach our kids to limit mistakes on the offensive end but still play at a high energy level,” Usher said. “We haven’t mastered that yet, but we’ve seen it in spots.”

Those flashes of brilliance are becoming more frequent as the season moves along, and against the Bengals they happened quite a bit.

After Hermiston blew its second double-digit lead of the ballgame, the ball movement from the Dawgs’ motion offense worked to perfection. Culminating on a thunderous two-handed slam dunk from forward Trevor Phillips, off a great feed by Joey Burns, the Dawgs are going to score points whomever they play — it might just be a matter of limiting the opponents’ possessions by cutting out silly passes and focusing on finishing plays.

“Those passes that we throw to somebody’s mom in the third row of the bleachers are what kill us,” Usher said. “We also missed seven uncontested layins in the third quarter.”

During the Hermiston scoring drought, the Bengals went on a 15-0 run to bring the game within four points, but the Phillips slam ignited the club, which earned a defensive stop next time down the floor and cashed in another bucket, from an Alex Ortiz layin, out of a timeout.

That put Hermiston up 60-55 with 5:58 left in the game, and gave them all the momentum the needed to shut this one down.

Earlier in the year, Usher said the reputation of his club this year may be stained with a lack of toughness. He said this game, by the way they had to withstand two huge rallies, could definitely change the minds of future opponents about the team’s toughness and grit.

“Our kids weren’t only mentally tough, they were physically tough, too,” Usher said. “They battled for big rebounds. One thing we did that we haven’t done at all this season was get every loose ball.”

Everyone in the Hermiston starting lineup scored in double digits, with Ortiz leading the way posting 19 points.

Even though it’s almost assumed that Ortiz is going to score fairly frequently, he understands that there’s always a way to improve and work on his game.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “I turned the ball over a lot and I have to play smarter. Everyday at practice I work hard to make the right decisions and do what Coach tells me.”

Kurt Simmons followed with 16 points, including an 8 for 8 performance from the free throw line. Burns scored 14 and Phillips hit 13 while Ryan Parsons posted 10 points.

The meeting with Chiawana on Tuesday will be Hermiston’s preseason schedule finale — and won’t be an easy one, either. The Riverhawks are 9-0 and red-hot right now, beating Kamiakin, 67-60, last week.

Jordan Downing scored 21 points for Chiawana in the matchup, while teammate Justin Smith netted 17.

Ortiz said that, to beat any team they play this year, the Dawgs are going to have to do one thing.

“Play defense.”

The Chiawana game tips at 7 p.m.

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