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Cowboys struggle offensively, but still find a way to pull away down the stretch

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Thaiden Mullan goes to the basket for two of his 11 points against Molalla on Tuesday. Mullan, who was in foul trouble most of the night scored nine points in the fourth quarter to help seal the Cowboy 51-42 victory. The Crook County Cowboys didn't play their best basketball Tuesday night, but still found a way to come away with a 51-42 victory over the Molalla Indians.

"It's one of those things where winning teams sometimes have games that they win and don't play that well," Crook County head coach Darin Kessi said. "We were thankful that we were able to do enough to figure out a way to get the win."

Early in the contest, it looked like the home-standing Cowboys would run away with it.

When Thaiden Mullan stole the ball and hit Devin Bishop in stride for an easy layup, the Cowboys led 7-2.

After a Shane Kessi 3-pointer, Crook County held an 11-4 lead with nearly four minutes remaining in the first period.

However, Mullan picked up his second foul moments later and went to the bench.

With Mullan on the bench, Molalla battled their way back into the game, trailing 14-9 at the end of the first period.

The Cowboys heated up early in the second quarter, and when Kessi stole the ball and hit Bales for a layup with 3:45 left in the first half, Crook County led 30-16.

"I thought that we were going to break it open in that second quarter," Kessi said. "We were doing some good things, and then we just did some silly things defensively."

Those silly things led to a 3-pointer by Silverio Lopez, followed by a layup from Jonathan Taylor.

The two quick baskets made the score 30-21 with two minutes remaining in the half.

After a Crook County timeout, Bales hit a three to push the Cowboys' lead back up to 12, and they still led by 10, 33-23, at the half.

Molalla went to a full-court press to start the second half, picking up their defensive intensity.

Initially, it looked like Crook County would be able to take advantage of the press as they easily brought the ball up the court, getting layup opportunity after layup opportunity.

However, the Cowboys went ice cold from the field, missing seven layups in the period.

When Mullan hit a two early in the period, Crook County led 35-23.

However, moments later, Mullan picked up his third foul and once again went to the bench.

Then came perhaps the key play of the game. Molalla guard Jeff Larsen drove to the basket and collided with Bishop. Larsen appeared to score on the play but was called for a charge, negating the basket and giving the Cowboys the LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Devin Bishop goes in for a fast break layup Tuesday night in the Cowboys' home victory over the Molalla Indians. Bishop took two key charges in the game and scored four points. ball.

It was the second charge that Bishop took in the game, with both erasing Molalla scores.

"I'm pretty excited with the win," Bishop said. "We've been practicing hard, and we have a new defense and that has helped us a lot. I didn't think that we played well tonight. We've been playing way better, but we are making a lot more progress, and we will play better next time."

The Cowboys failed to score again in the period, going the final five minutes and 30 second of the period without scoring a point.

Fortunately for Crook County, Molalla went cold as well, managing just six points in the quarter as the Cowboys clung to a 35-29 lead going into the final frame.

"We were fortunate that they only scored six, because we only scored two," Kessi said. "They were missing their big, who got hurt against Gladstone, so I was impressed with how they played. I felt like their kids stepped up."

When a Cowboy turnover led to a basket by Taylor early in the fourth quarter, the Indians were within four points at 38-34.

However, that was as close as they would get.

Mullan came off the bench to score nine of his game-high 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys did just enough to win.

Still, the Cowboys were unable to shake the Indians until late in the contest. Crook County had several chances to break the game wide open, but struggled from the free throw line, missing six attempts in the period.

Crook County finally put the game out of reach when Kaleb Savage was fouled with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. Savage calmly hit both free throw attempts, putting the Cowboys up by nine and sealing the win.

Bales, who scored 23 and 24 points, respectively, in the Cowboys' first two league contests, struggled with his shooting in the game, managing just eight points.

"It was a scrap to win, but we got the win and that's what matters at the end of the day," Bales said. "I just want to say thanks for all the fans that came. Let's keep them coming. We like a packed house."

Still, despite Bales' offensive struggles, the Cowboys found a way to score enough points to get the win. Ten Cowboys scored in the contest.

Savage finished with seven points while Bishop had six. Jordan Graydon chipped in with five.

For the Indians, Marcus Simpson led the way with 10 points, while Taylor and Lopez each finished with nine.

Larsen, who fouled out midway through the fourth period, added six for Molalla.

Bales led the Cowboys in rebounding with 10, while Dominic Langley grabbed five.

Simpson grabbed 10 rebounds for the Indians, while Alfanasy Kutsev picked up eight boards.

With the win, the Cowboys are now 3-0 in Tri-Valley Conference play, their best start in the four years that they have been in the conference.

Crook County has improved to 6-10 overall and are tied for first place in the conference with Gladstone, which has a 6-11 overall record.

The two teams meet tonight in Gladstone, with the winner grabbing sole possession of first place in the league.

"Gladstone has been the top team in our league since we have been in the league," Kessi said. "If we want to accomplish our goals, we have got to go through Gladstone. If we play like we can, I think that it will be a victory against those guys, and oh man, it would send a message that we are for real."

Crook County 51, Molalla 42

Tuesday, January 23

At Crook County

Molalla 9 14 6 13 — 42

Crook County 14 19 2 16 — 51

Molalla (42) — Marcus Simpson 10, Taylor 9, Lopez 9, Larsen 6, Daniels 3, Kutsev 3, Pedersen 2. Totals: 13 12-17 42.

Crook County (51) — Thaiden Mullan 11, Bales 8, Savage 7, Kessi 6, Graydon 5, D. Bishop 4, Langley 3, Kasberger 3, H. Bishop 2, Combee 2. Totals: 16 14-24 51.

Three-point goals — Molalla: Lopez 2, Taylor, Larsen. Crook County: Kessi 2, Savage, Graydon, Bishop.

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