In the decisive fourth quarter, the Lady Bulldogs outscore Pilot Rock 14-7 to open league play with a win.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Mia Gamboa (14) made several important plays for Culver, including a buzzer-beating layup at the end of the third quarter, and in the fourth, a 3-pointer from the corner.Culver knew the importance of starting off its Columbia Basin Conference schedule strong Friday.

The Lady Bulldogs had plenty of respect for their opponent, three-time reigning league champion Pilot Rock. Last season, when Culver beat Pilot Rock to open its CBC slate, the win kickstarted a successful run that propelled the Bulldogs to the CBC district tournament. The Bulldogs can only hope their most recent victory, a 38-33 win over Pilot Rock, is the beginning of a similar trend.

"Even last year, they were the first team we beat, and we had a good season," junior Mia Gamboa said. "They're one of the top teams and we beat them, so it feels great."

Culver wore down Pilot Rock early with its full-court press, forcing Pilot Rock into numerous turnovers. Even when the Rockets did get the ball up the court, Culver made them work for it.

Yet for all that seemed to be going right for the Bulldogs, it came somewhat as a surprise to Culver head coach Scott Fritz that they only led by four points, 20-16, at the halfway point.

That could've easily been bigger had Culver shot better than 4 of 12 at the foul line in the first half, and 6 of 17 for all four quarters.

"It (nearly) cost us the game," Fritz said.

Free-throw shooting takes a backseat to few things in daily practices. Culver players are required to shoot a combined 60 percent from the line during practice, but if they fail to reach that number, they must run a line — to the opposite baseline and back — for each percentage point under 60.

At halftime, Fritz told his team they weren't taking their chances at the foul line seriously enough.

"That's our big thing in practice," Gamboa said. "(Fritz said), 'You guys don't think it matters when we do it in practice, but it obviously matters.' It was close, and it mattered."

In the third quarter, Pilot Rock pulled the momentum away from Culver. Senior Grace Austin scored all eight of her points in the third quarter, and accounted for all but two Pilot Rock points. Culver struggled to find its spark offensively, meanwhile, and scored just four points in the quarter.

Nearing the end of the quarter, the Bulldogs inbounded the ball from the sideline to Gamboa. In 4.9 seconds, she proceeded to dribble across halfcourt with a defender on her hip, all the way to the basket for a layup that briefly danced on the rim and dropped as the buzzer sounded.

"It made (the game) more stressful," Gamboa said of the third quarter. "It pushed us though, like, 'Ok, we got this.' We were up at halftime. We know we can win, so let's win."

Pilot Rock led by two points entering the final quarter, but Culver promptly went on a 14-4 run.

Elly Bautista hit a floater on Culver's first offensive possession. Then Irma Retano, who led Culver with 10 points, followed with an and-one basket, and converted the foul shot.WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Irma Retano (12) led Culver with 10 points.

Rhyanne Oates made a pair of free throws for Pilot Rock, keeping the score close, 29-28, but the Bulldogs had a couple big moments left. Gamboa's 3-pointer, followed by another shot from Bautista, gave Culver a 32-28 lead.

At the 2:49 mark, Rosi Olivera drilled a 3-pointer from the same corner Gamboa had a couple minutes prior. The shot put the Bulldogs on top 38-30 — their largest lead of the game. Culver was then able to run down the clock and force Pilot Rock to intentionally foul.

"It was huge," Fritz said. "I don't know if we win if they don't hit those two 3s."

Culver hangs on for road win

The Bulldogs held a slim, 28-23 lead entering the final quarter against Stanfield (2-14) last Saturday on the road.

They did just enough to pull out a win, and push their CBC record to 2-0 through the first weekend of league play.

Retano led Culver with 13 points, eight rebounds and eight steals. Ryanne Scholl's 12 points also gave Culver a boost in a game which it shot 31 percent from the floor, and 43 percent from the foul line.

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow him on Twitter @MadrasSports, @WillCDenner

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