Gladiator defensive pressure creates a big early lead and the Cowboys never recovers in road defeat

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Chase Bales drives to the basket against a defender earlier in the year. Bales led all players in scoring on Saturday with 22, but it wasn't enough as the Cowboys lost to the Gladstone Gladiators 45-39 in the battle for first place in the Tri-Valley Conference. With both teams undefeated in conference play, there was a lot on the line when the Crook County Cowboys and Gladstone Gladiators stepped on the floor Saturday afternoon.

The game, which was originally scheduled for Friday night in Gladstone, was moved to Saturday afternoon due to weather.

Once on the court, the Gladiators ran out to a big early lead and never trailed as they held on to defeat the Cowboys 45-39 to take over sole possession of first place in the Tri-Valley Conference.

"We have been doing a good job of coming out really solid defensively," said Crook County head coach Darin Kessi. "Gladstone did a little bit to us what we've been doing to other teams. That was the best defense that we have seen all year other than obviously Woodcreek and Clackamas (larger schools that the Cowboys faced in a tournament over Christmas break)."

With 6-5 post Deshawn Dix leading the way, the Gladiators rolled out to a 12-3 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Dix had six points in the quarter to go along with five rebounds and a blocked shot.

Gladstone continued to apply pressure in the second quarter, but the Cowboys did a better job of running their offense.

Still, Crook County trailed 23-12 at the break, and the game looked like it might be a runaway.

However, the Cowboys clawed their way back into the game in the second half.

"They are pretty physical, and they are a lot bigger than us," Kessi said. "We adjusted against their bigs, and some guys came in and knocked down shots. I was really pleased with the fact that we didn't panic, we just stayed positive and grinded and worked our way back into it."

Crook County went on a run early in the third quarter, eventually cutting the Gladstone lead to three. Nonetheless, that was as close as they would get as the Gladiators kept their composure.

Crook County trailed 30-24 at the end of the third period.

The Cowboys closed to within four on a basket by Jordan Graydon.

When the Gladiators missed their next shot, it looked like Crook County had an opportunity to close the gap even farther. Instead, the ball bounced straight to Gladstone guard Lyric Warren, who was turning to start back on defense.

According to Kessi, Warren was approximately 26 feet from the basket. With no one guarding him, Warren threw up the long three, and it fell, giving the Gladiators a seven-point lead.

A Crook County turnover on an inbounds play led to a Gladstone layup, and the Gladiators were up by nine.

Two more Cowboy turnovers, and the Gladiators were up by 12, and it looked like the game was LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shane Kessi goes up for a jumper at a home game earlier this year. Kessi scored eight points on Saturday, including hitting a pair of 3-pointers in Crook County's 45-39 loss to Gladstone. over.

However, Crook County refused to go away quietly.

First, Holt Porfily came off the bench to hit a big 3-pointer.

Then, Chase Bales hit a contested three, and the Cowboys were back in the game.

With time running down, Bales hit another three, this time getting fouled on the play.

Bales calmly sunk the free throw for a rare 4-point play, and the Cowboys were once again back to within four points.

In an effort to stop the clock, the Cowboys fouled wing Drew Pulsipher, who made both free throws, putting the Gladiators back up by six. And that's the way the game ended as the Cowboys failed to get another shot as time expired.

"We made it a little closer there at the end," Kessi said. "They were up by 12 with a minute and a half to go, and we cut it to four. I was really pleased that the boys were never really out of it. They kept fighting, and they were in it the whole time. We were making a charge, we just ran out of time."

Bales led all scorers with 22 points in the game.

Shane Kessi added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, but no other Cowboy could manage more than three points in the contest.

Thaiden Mullan, who has been averaging just over 10 points a game during the league season, managed just two points, a pair of second-quarter free throws, while usually reliable scorers Kaleb Savage, Devin Bishop and Jacob Kasberger failed to score in the contest.

Warren led the Gladiators in scoring with 11, while Dix finished with 10, and Pulsipher added nine.

With the win, the Gladiators improved to 4-0 in league and 7-11 overall, while the Cowboys fell to 3-1 in conference play and 6-11 overall.

"If you had told me before the game that Thaiden, Kaleb, Devin and Jacob would have just two points between them and we would only lose by six, I would have told you that you were nuts," Kessi said. "So defensively, we still were overall pretty solid. Now, we have to get refocused and get ready for Madras on Tuesday."

Tonight's home game against the White Buffalos is a critical game for both teams.

Madras is also 3-1 in the Tri-Valley Conference and 7-10 overall.

The winning team will be just one game out of first place and will control their own destiny, while the losing team will drop out of contention for the league championship.

Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Gladstone 45, Crook County 39

Saturday, January 27

At Gladstone

Crook County 3 9 12 15 — 39

Gladstone 12 11 7 15 — 45

Crook County (39) — Chase Bales 22, Kessi 8, Porfily 3, Mullan 2, Graydon 2, Langley 2, Kasberger, Savage, Bishop. Totals: 12 8-13 39.

Gladstone (45) — Lyric Warren 11, Dix 10, Pulsipher 9, Ashfole 3, Simmons 3, Hill 3, Nielsen 2, Lehrbach 2, Boyd 2, Perez. Totals: 17 7-13 45.

Three-point goals — Crook County: Bales 4, Kessi 2, Porfily. Gladstone: Warren 3, Pulsipher.

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