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Cowboys struggle with consistency and scoring during three-day tournament in Coos Bay

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Thaiden Mullan drives to the basket during a game earlier this year. Mullan led the Cowboys in scoring at the three-day Les Schwab Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament, which was held in Coos Bay over the weekend. Mullan scored 13 points against La Salle Prep, 21 against Junction City, and 10 against Sutherlin as the Cowboys went 1-2 at the tournament.The Crook County Cowboys struggled offensively during the three-day Les Schwab Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament, which was held at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay.

The Cowboys dropped their opening round game to eventual champions La Salle Prep, rebounded to defeat Junction City in the first round of consolation play, then fell to Sutherlin in Saturday's consolation finals.

"I think we are just trying to figure out who we are," Crook County head coach Darin Kessi said following the tournament. "We need to be more consistent in how we play defensively and let that feed our offense."

Thursday, La Salle Prep broke open a close game in the second quarter as they rolled to a 58-42 win over the Cowboys. Friday, Crook County rebounded to whip Junction City 45-36 in a defensive battle. Then, Saturday, Sutherlin broke open a close game in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for a 52-39 victory over the Cowboys.

"We were certainly disappointed that we didn't do better," Kessi said. "We never expected to go 1-2, but it also goes to show you that you have to show up every game. Each opponent that we played against has played well against us, so our schedule doesn't allow us to really not expect a good game."

La Salle Prep

Crook County stayed with La Salle Prep for the first quarter. With Shane Kessi and Thaiden Mullan each hitting a three-pointer in the quarter, the Cowboys trailed just 11-9 at the end of the frame.

However, La Salle Prep ramped up their pressure in the second quarter, and the Cowboys struggled as the Falcons outscored Crook County 20-9 in the period to run out to a 31-18 halftime lead.

La Salle continued to roll in the third, outscoring Crook County 19-8 as they extended their lead to 50-26.

Crook County played better defense in the final period and finally started to click offensively as they outscored the Falcons 16-8. However, it was too little too late as La Salle Prep held on for the easy win.

La Salle Prep went on to defeat Sisters 58-45 in the semifinals, then knock off host Marshfield 51-41 in Saturday night's championship.

Mullan, who hit four three-pointers in the game, led the Cowboys in scoring with 13, while Kevin Sanchez finished with nine, and Jesse Sanchez chipped in with six.

"La Salle is really solid and they have good depth," Kessi said. "They played really well, and our energy was a little poor initially in that game. Then, the fourth quarter was good. We ramped up our energy and our pressure and that carried over to the Junction City game."

Jace Norton led La Salle in scoring with 20, while Alex Boyd was also in double figures with 14.

La Salle Prep 58, Crook County 42

Thursday, December 13

At Southwestern Oregon Community College

Crook County 9 9 8 16 — 42

La Salle Prep 11 20 19 8 — 58

Crook County — Thaiden Mullan 13, K. Sanchez 9, J. Sanchez 6, Savage 4, Lowenbach 3, Kessi 3, Bishop 2, Humeston 2, Graydon, Langley, Chaney. Totals: 15 4-7 42.

La Salle Prep — Jace Norton 20, A. Boyd 14, North 7, Massaad 6, N. Boyd 5, Simmons 3, Grogan 3, Taylor, Owens, Domingo. Totals: 21 7-9 58.

Three-point goals — Crook County: Mullan 4, Lowenbach, Kessi, K. Sanchez, J. Sanchez. La Salle Prep: Norton 4, Massaad 2, Simmons, N. Boyd, Grogan.

Junction City

The Cowboys rolled out to a 13-7 first-quarter lead against the Tigers.

However, the Cowboys struggled in the second quarter as Junction City rallied to take a 25-22 halftime lead.

The two teams played even in the third period with the Tigers taking a 32-30 lead into the fourth.

However, the Cowboys ramped up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter and that led to easy baskets as they outscored Junction City 15-4 in the period to roll to the 45-36 win.

"We started out pretty good, and then we hit a little bit of a hole for some reason against Junction City," Kessi said. "We were able to ramp it up again in the fourth period and were able to keep the lead."

Mullan led Crook County in scoring with 21 points, while Kevin Sanchez had seven, and Kaleb Savage and Kessi each scored six.

"Thaiden had a pretty good game against Junction City," Kessi said. "He shot pretty well."

Trae Knabe led the Tigers with 14 points, while Riley Sangermano finished with nine.

Although the Cowboys were able to win, starting post Jordon Graydon went down with a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter.

Crook County 45, Junction City 36

Friday, December 14

At Marshfield

Crook County 13 9 8 15 — 45

Junction City 7 18 7 4 — 36

Crook County — Thaiden Mullan 21, K. Sanchez 7, Savage 6, Kessi 6, Graydon 2, Bishop 2, J. Sanchez 1, Lowenbach, Langley, Humeston. Totals: 14 9-16 45.

Junction City — Trae Knabe 12, Sangermano 9, Storey 6, Gibson 4, Nash 3, Gerdes 2, Van Ras, Thielman. Totals: 14 5-10 39.

Three-point goals — Crook County: Mullan 5, Savage, Kessi, K. Sanchez. Junction City: Knabe 2, Sangermano.

Sutherlin

With Graydon unable to play, the Cowboys struggled to stop Sutherlin post Mason Gill, who finished with 23 points, mostly on offensive rebounds.

"For whatever reason, he just destroyed us on the boards," Kessi said. "I don't think any of his baskets were outside of the paint and most of them were after offensive rebounds that he got. He was just 6-3, but he was really quick and athletic. He just had a really good motor and for whatever reason, no matter who we put on him to guard him, we just weren't effective."

Crook County trailed 10-6 at the end of one period and 18-13 at the half.

The two teams traded baskets in the third quarter with the Bulldogs taking a 35-29 lead into the final period.

Crook County closed to within five points late in the quarter before the Bulldogs slowed their offense down.

Then late in the game, Crook County fouled in an attempt to get the ball back.

Sutherlin went 7-12 from the foul line in the quarter, making six of their final seven free throws as they pulled away at the end.

For the game, the Bulldogs went 15-27 from the foul line, while the Cowboys were just 5-6.

Tyler Humeston came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points for Crook County, while Mullan was also in double figures with 10.

"Tyler played really well against Sutherlin," Kessi said. "He found good spacing, knocked down some perimeter shots and did a great job of the pick and roll of finding space. When Tyler wasn't in, we didn't get a lot of shots in the paint, and for whatever reason, our shooting wasn't good. We had some good looks, they just weren't falling."

In addition to Gill, Brandon Carr was also in double figures for the Bulldogs, finishing with 11 points.

The Cowboys are now 5-3 on the year and are struggling to find their identity.

After scoring 85 in a game against Madras two weeks ago, the team has not scored more than 53 points since.

"We need to let our defense fuel our offense and then build on becoming more consistent on all phases of the game," Kessi said. "We've got to be tougher, and we've got to figure out what our edge is going to be. I need to figure out how to coach better and make better adjustments to what other teams do."

The Cowboys don't have much time to prepare before they are back in action. The team plays Wilsonville today in the first round of the Capital City Classic, which is being held at Willamette University in Salem.

"We've got a bit of a grind in front of us right now," Kessi said. "But I think that was the right way to go. It makes us tougher, and that's why I wanted to do this. If we can make it harder in this part of the season, just like last year, it was effective because it propelled us into league. It revealed some areas that we needed to get better at, and the boys accepted that challenge. I think that this group is going to do that, too. Hopefully, it will be enough. A league championship isn't won in the preseason. It's about attitude and getting better and figuring out what you have to do to win."

Sutherlin, 52, Crook County 39

Saturday, December 15

At Marshfield

Crook County 6 7 16 10 — 39

Sutherlin 10 8 17 17 — 52

Crook County — Tyler Humeston 15, Mullan 10, Kessi 6, Lowenbach 3, K. Sanchez 3, Savage 2, Bishop, Langley, J. Sanchez. Totals: 14 5-6 39.

Sutherlin — Mason Gill 23, Carr 11, Hope 8, Bodine 5, Horn 4, Bailey 1, Merrifield, Stinnett. Totals: 18 15-27 52.

Three-point goals — Crook County: Mullan 5, Kessi, Lowenbach, K. Sanchez, J. Sanchez. Madras: Patt 6, Bagley 2, Miller 2,

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