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Hood River Valley uses free throws to pull away late for key conference win over the Cowboys

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kevin Sanchez drives past a defender earlier in the season. Sanchez was one of three Cowboys in double figures on Friday in a 68-57 loss to the Hood River Valley Eagles. The Crook County Cowboys struggled down the stretch as the Hood River Valley Eagles broke open a close game late in the fourth quarter to take a 68-57 win over the Cowboys in Hood River.

"We were within three points with three minutes left," Crook County head coach Darin Kessi said. "We got it to four two more times before we had to try to foul, and they hit free throws late to get it to 11."

The Cowboys were missing leading scorer Kaleb Savage, who was out with an illness.

In addition, defensive specialist Dominic Langley missed his second consecutive game.

"I felt like we played through adversity," Kessi said. "We were right there, and we were missing Langley and Savage, who we should get back for Redmond on Tuesday."

Still, even with the missing players, the Cowboys had chances to win.

Hood River Valley was on fire right out of the gate with Noah Webster and Carson Flores each scoring seven points in the first quarter as the Eagles raced out to an 18-15 lead.

The Eagles extended their lead to 33-26 at the half.

However, the Cowboys battled back.

A wild third quarter saw Crook County outscore Hood River Valley 24-22, pulling the Cowboys to within five at 55-50 heading into the fourth quarter.

Both teams slowed down offensively in the fourth. When Shane Kessi hit his third three-pointer of the contest with just over three minutes remaining, the Cowboys trailed just 57-54.

Moments later, the Cowboys had the ball back with a chance to tie the game.

Crook County called timeout and set up a sideline out of bounds play that worked to perfection. Kevin Sanchez received the inbounds pass and found himself wide open in the corner. However, his three-point attempt rolled off the rim.

Hood River Valley grabbed the rebound, and Flores threw up a wild three-pointer.

"He took a bad three from way outside that rattled in, putting them back up by six," Kessi said.

Jordan Graydon answered for the Cowboys, hitting a two from inside the key to make the score 60-56 with less than two minutes left.

The Cowboys managed just one free throw the remainder of the game.

Then, with time running down, Crook County resorted to fouling in an attempt to get the ball back.

Flores made four consecutive free throws down the stretch as the Eagles pulled away for their fifth consecutive win.

Even without Savage and Langley, the Cowboys had no trouble scoring. However, they struggled with turnovers, committing 18, and were unable to stop Hood River Valley's top three players.

Flores, a guard, exploded for 31 points against the Cowboys, while fellow guard Noah Webster added 20, and forward German Diaz pitched in with 11.

"Offensively, we were fine," Kessi said. "Defensively, we gave up too many points. We had a tough time with Flores' quickness and Webster's quickness. They hit a number of tough shots and it felt like they caught a lot of breaks."

The Cowboys also struggled with free throws, going just 13-21 from the charity stripe while the Eagles were 14-18 at the foul line.

The Cowboys received balanced scoring with Kessi leading the way with 14, while Sanchez added 13, Cayden Lowenbach 11. Graydon and Thaiden Mullan also had solid offensive games, finishing with nine and seven points, respectively.

With the win, the Eagles improved to 4-0 in conference play and 10-6 overall, while the Cowboys fell to 1-3 in league and 9-9 overall.

With just three teams from the Intermountain Conference qualifying for the state playoffs, that makes the remainder of the season critical for the Cowboys, who are currently tied for fourth place in the conference.

The Cowboys play on the road again tonight at Redmond (1-3, 3-13) in a 7:30 p.m. game.

"Tuesday is huge," Kessi said. "In fact, they all are now. We feel like if we play well, we can beat anyone in our league. That's what we have to do at this point. It starts with Redmond on Tuesday."

Hood River Valley 68, Crook County 57

Friday, February 1

At Hood River Valley

Crook County 15 11 24 7 — 57

Hood River Valley 18 15 22 13 — 68

Crook County – Shane Kessi 14, K. Sanchez 13, Lowenbach 11, Graydon 9, Mullan 7, J. Sanchez 2, Bishop 1. Totals: 20 13-21 57.

Hood River Valley – Carson Flores 31, Webster 20, Diaz 10, Hawk 4, Siekkinen 3, Searcy, Hawk, Ellsworth, Rivera, Castaneda. Totals: 24 14-18 68.

Three-point goals – Crook County: Kessi 3, Lowenbach, Graydon, K. Sanchez. Hood River Valley: Webster 3, Flores 3.

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