Culver's late comeback falls just short
The Culver girls appeared to be down and out, ready to concede defeat to Heppner last Thursday.
The game looked to be out of reach for Culver, which shot just 36 percent from the field and 48 percent from the foul line. The Bulldogs wanted to keep the game respectable, though, and in a matter of minutes, they went from chipping away at Heppner's double-digit lead to nearly coming away with a win.
Culver went on a 13-2 run, drawing to within 45-44 at the 1:24 mark, but it was unable to tie or take the lead. Heppner (11-4, 3-1 Columbia Basin Conference) escaped with a 48-46 win. Though the late surge wasn't enough for the Bulldogs (11-7, 2-1) to keep their conference record unbeaten, their effort at a crucial stage was the talk of the game afterwards.
"When we were down 13, I thought the game was over," Culver head coach Scott Fritz said.
"To came back though, shows me they can do it, (and) shows me they got the heart to be champions."
They found themselves trailing by 13 points two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth, after Heppner's Sydney Wilson drew a shooting foul and made both of her free throws.
Irma Retano made a layup for Culver, before Mia Gamboa, Ryanne Scholl and Elly Bautista all drew fouls following Heppner turnovers. The trio went a combined 4 of 6 from the line, drawing Culver within single digits, 45-38, with 3:03 remaining.
Then, Retano took over on her own. The next three possessions went as follows — Retano rebounds a Heppner miss and hits 1 of 2 free throws after getting fouled; Retano dives to the floor for a steal, and, while on her back, flings a pass to an open Mikayla Haessler for a layup; and finally, Retano grabs another steal and hits one of two free throws. Retano's final line read 22 points, 12 steals, 10 rebounds and two assists.
"I think there was a point in the first half when we were up 11, but other than that, I didn't see a point when I could take Irma out. She was doing everything — the steals, the rebounds and the driving," Fritz said.
Those three plays, combined with a Gamboa steal that led to another Haessler layup, put Culver behind 45-44. The Bulldogs were eventually forced to foul, and the Mustangs let them hang around by missing three key free throws in the final 1:24. Culver also missed two layups that would've tied the game.
Those two plays were tough to accept for the Bulldogs, but they were hardly the reason they lost. Their offense was out of sync for the second game in a row, Fritz said.
"I don't know how to explain it, really," Fritz said. "Usually our man offense, we're cutting hard, we're flashing. There were a lot of times when we would pass, stand and watch."
The Bulldogs led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, but Heppner broke into that lead and then some. Culver's ability to force turnovers and get easy baskets from its press has proved crucial in nearly every game this season. However, Heppner time and again found an opening behind Culver's last defender, which allowed the Mustangs several layups in transition.
By halftime, Heppner had outscored Culver 23-12 in the second quarter and taken a 28-25 lead.
"We were trapping and it was leaving that one person open; They were flying and hitting her," Fritz said. "We weren't setting a good, hard trap to make it a hard pass (for Heppner)."
A win would've put the Bulldogs firmly in the driver's seat of first place in the Columbia Basin Conference. The loss still keeps them tied with Heppner atop the standings, both with 2-1 conference records. But Culver's upcoming road trip starts a tough stretch of games.
Its back-to-back slate at Weston-McEwen on Friday, then at Pilot Rock on Saturday, could go a long way in determining the final conference hierarchy. In the two previous seasons, the Bulldogs have been unable to come away with a win, either on the front or back end of the trip. They hope their fortunes will change this season.
"Next weekend, we've never won a game on this road trip," Fritz said. "That's our goal — we got to go win ... We're going to be fighting for that third spot, instead of, we could've had a stranglehold on that lead right now. Tough one, but I'm proud of the way they fought back."
Culver runs out of gas Monday
Although the Bulldogs trailed by just four points midway through the third quarter, they were unable to sustain offense against Eagle Point, and lost 45-24 at home Monday.
Retano led Culver scorers with nine points, while Bautista added seven.
Culver's game at Weston-McEwen tips off at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
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