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Eagles break open a close game in the fourth quarter to take a 64-52 win over Crook County

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Dominic Langley goes hard to the basket for two of his 11 points on Monday against Hood River Valley. The Cowboys lost 64-52 to the league-leading Eagles. However, the game technically did not count in the league standings as the Intermountain Conference has replaced the second half of the league season with a league playoff.With bad weather canceling a series of league games involving teams from the Columbia Gorge, the Intermountain Conference made the drastic decision to cancel the second half of the league season and instead hold a league playoff to determine the league's three representatives to the state playoffs.

That playoff started on Thursday, with the Cowboys playing at Redmond in a matchup of the third-seeded Panthers and the fifth-seeded Cowboys.

"Just getting the opportunity to play a playoff game with the winner moving forward, that's pretty important right now," Crook County head coach Darin Kessi said. "Considering the first half of our league season and still having a chance to play for first, that's pretty cool."

Crook County had not played a game in more than a week, so to prepare for Thursday's game, the Cowboys hosted the Hood River Valley Eagles on Thursday.

The game, which was originally scheduled for Friday, would normally be part of the second half of the Intermountain Conference season. Instead, the game technically had no meaning, with the two teams using the game to tune-up for the playoffs.

With no more home games in the schedule, the Cowboys used the game as senior night, starting five of their seven seniors, and playing their seniors throughout the contest.

With junior Jordan Graydon missing the game due to illness and seniors earning most of the playing time on the court, Crook County often found themselves on the court with combinations of players that don't usually play together.

Still, the Cowboys were in the game most of the way before struggling in the fourth quarter of a 64-52 loss to the Eagles.

"I wish we could have played on Friday, because last week we had a really good week of practice," Kessi said. "I didn't feel like tonight we had the same focus as we had last week, but the good thing is that we have two days to get that back," Kessi said. "I think they will be ready for Thursday."

Kessi added that Redmond was scouting the game, so the Cowboys chose to not show all of the things that the team has been working on implementing during the past couple weeks of practice.

Hood River Valley, who is the top seed for the league playoff, jumped out to an early lead in Monday's game. However, the Cowboys battled back and trailed just 15-12 at the end of one period.

The Cowboys still trailed by just six points late in the first half before the Eagles went on a late surge, taking a 30-21 lead into the locker room at the half.

Crook County battled back in the third quarter, outscoring the Eagles 19-14 as they closed to within just four points at 44-40 heading into the final stanza.

However, the Cowboys were unable to maintain their momentum in the fourth quarter as Hood River Valley pulled away for the 12-point victory.

"I think it's just a matter of being more consistent," Kessi said. "Everybody being on the same page. There were times that we did that, but probably half the time we did and half the time we didn't. When you are not consistent enough, that's when you lose by 12."

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Cayden Lowenbach goes up for two of his 12 points during the Cowboys' 64-52 loss to Hood River Valley on Monday. The Cowboys received good production from some of their seniors, including bench players.

Dominic Langley, who usually comes off the bench as a defensive stopper, started Monday, and not only played solid defense, but scored 11 points for the Cowboys.

"I was just trying to contribute to the team," Langley said. "I was trying to have some fun and get some buckets. Hopefully we can pull it together at just the right time and start chipping away at these guys and start getting some wins in the league playoffs."

Fellow senior Thaiden Mullan added eight points for the Cowboys.

"It was pretty disa- ppointing," Mullan said of the loss. "But I think that as a team we have made progress because we have worked harder this past week than we normally do. The playoffs are going to be hard because we don't exactly have momentum, but I think that we can take this as a game to learn stuff from that we did not do well and we will be ready for Thursday."

Sophomores Cayden Lowenbach and Kevin Sanchez came off the bench to lead the Cowboys in scoring with 12 points apiece.

Senior Shane Kessi added five points for the Cowboys.

Seldom-used senior post player Miles Chaney earned a rare start.

Although Chaney didn't score, he did play solid defense underneath the basket for the Cowboys.

"I felt like I was able to do some good stuff out there," Chaney said. "We get a breath of new life, and we've got a chance to start over with the league playoffs, and we can still go to state."

Kessi said that he is proud of the seniors on the squad and is appreciative of what they have meant to the team.

"They are good solid young men," he said. "They are going to do well in life, and it's been a pleasure to coach them. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will get an opportunity to coach them some more."

As has happened all season, the Eagles got virtually all their scoring from three players.

Noah Webster poured in 26 points, while Carson Flores scored 17, and German Diaz added 15. The remainder of the Hood River Valley squad could manage just six points.

With the win, the Eagles improved to 13-6 overall and 7-0 on conference play, while the Cowboys fell to 9-12 overall and 1-6 in conference play.

Following Thursday's game at Redmond, the Cowboys will either play Saturday at Hood River Valley or Monday at either The Dalles or Pendleton.

The modified double elimination tournament will conclude on Tuesday with the three top teams representing the conference in post-season play.

It should be noted that more snow is in the forecast, so schedules for playoff games could still change.

For up-to-date schedules and game times, go to the Crook County High School website at cchs.crookcounty.k12.or.us/ and click on athletics and then the athletic calendar.

Hood River Valley 64, Crook County 52

Monday, February 18

At Crook County

Hood River Valley 15 15 14 20 — 64

Crook County 12 9 19 12 — 52

Hood River Valley – Noah Webster 26, Flores 17, Diaz 15, Rivera 3, Searcy 2, Castaneda 1, Zack, Smiley. Totals: 22 14-25 64.

Crook County – Cayden Lowenbach 12, Kevin Sanchez 12, Langley 11, Mullan 8, Kessi 5, Bishop 2, Savage 2, Humeston, Chaney, J. Sanchez, Smith. Totals: 19 11-15 52.

Three-point goals – Hood River Valley: Flores 4, Webster, Rivera. Crook County: Sanchez 2, Kessi.

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