UMATILLA — It takes unrelenting endurance to outlast your toughest competition, which is something the Irrigon boys basketball team focuses on every practice.
“It’s 90 percent of what we do,” junior Keith Flemming said. “We don’t even touch the basketball during practice, we run.”
The Knights have outran, outplayed and more often than not dominated their opponents. But when it came to league play, they were going to have to give a little more, especially when it was time to face Umatilla.
The Vikings and Knights played twice during the regular season, and would meet again Friday for the Eastern Oregon League district championship.
On the defending champs’ home court, Irrigon had to use the endurance it has built up all season long to come away with a 53-48 double-overtime victory.
Soon after tipoff in the second overtime period, the Knights (20-4 overall, 7-3 EOL) found themselves down after Umatilla just banked one of its nine 3-pointers.
Junior Uriel Garcia had attempted a three from the left corner earlier in the game with no luck, but this time it put the Vikings (20-6, 8-2) up by a single point, 48-47.
The back-and-forth lead changes continued. Irrigon’s Johnny Phillips made both of his free throws in the bonus to give the Knights a one-point advantage, but they needed to distance themselves and quickly.
Fans from both schools filled the gym with the short travel time, but Umatilla certainly had the home-court advantage and it was getting loud.
Any time the Vikings touched the ball the crowd would roar, and only simmer down momentarily when the Knights came up with a big play. This time, it was Fleming who would silence the stands.
At half court, he nabbed the ball away from Umatilla and took it all the way to extend Irrigon’s lead to 51-48.
“I saw (Kaden Webb) look at him right from the start,” Fleming said of stepping into the passing lane. “I knew what play they were running so I just tried jumping it ... and I got there.”
The Vikings’ late attempts were unsuccessful, and Irrigon became the new EOL district champions after a tough 40 minutes of play.
“I’m happy for my kids,” head coach Davie Salas said. “Playing all those years and having so much success with another group, we just kind of felt like we were left to do something big. ... We knew eventually it was going to become our time and I told the kids it was our time.”
After being within two possessions of the lead for most of the game, Umatilla was finally able to knot the score and take back control in the final minute of regulation.
A 3-pointer by the Vikings’ top scorer, junior Sebastian Garcia, pushed the score to 40-40.
On the ensuing possession, Irrigon senior Johnny Phillips, who towers above the competition at 6-foot-5, simply outstretched his hand and was able to block Umatilla’s attempt at taking the lead. But the Vikings recovered, and had their first scoreboard advantage since the opening minutes.
Up 42-40, Umatilla nearly closed out the game but a foul sent Irrigon senior Eric Carillo to the charity stripe, where he hit both free throw attempts to keep the Knights alive.
The Vikings try at a game-winning shot in the final seconds was no good, which sent the game into overtime.
Umatilla was slowly chipping away at the deficit it was stuck in for most of the game.
The Vikings got the first look at the basket in transition, a lay-in from Garcia, but would only be up for another two minutes before Irrigon made the first lead change.
The Knights kept that narrow lead for most of the game, ending the first quarter up 13-10 and then going into half time only up 23-22.
At the break, Salas reminded the team it was their time and despite another few lead changes, Irrigon was able to hold Umatilla to only 10 points in the third and fourth quarter. The Knights would go on to outscore the Vikings 11-6 in both overtime periods.
Three Vikings scored in double digits. Garcia led with 11 points, while Webb at Seth Cranston chipped in 10 apiece.
For the Knights, Adrian Roa had a game-best 15 points, with Phillips adding 12 points of his own.
IHS 13 10 13 6 11 — 53
UHS 10 12 10 10 6 — 48
IRRIGON — A. Roa 15, J. Phillips 12, L. Covarrubia 9, K. Fleming 8, E. Carrillo 7, A. Gomez 2.
UMATILLA — S. Garcia 11, K. Webb 10, S. Cranston 10, T. Durfey 9, C. Deloera 3, U. Garcia 3, M. Garcilazo 2.
3-pointers — IHS 2, UHS 9. Free throws — IHS 11-16, UHS 1-4. Fouls — IHS 11, UHS 13.