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Cowboys have a chance to make school history if they can keep the momentum that they have recently built

Lon AustinIt has been more than a decade since the last time that the Crook County High School boys basketball team has reached the state playoffs.

It has been even longer since a Cowboy team has reached the state tournament.

It has been even longer since a Cowboy team has reached the state tournament.

Although they still have a ways to go in order to reach that lofty goal, the Cowboys have a chance to make athletic history.

The team has shown the ability to put points on the board and has also shown that at times they are able to play stifling defense.

Still, the team has to continue to improve before they can reach the goals they set prior to the start of the season.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Crook County has already locked up a state playoff berth.

However, the team still has work to do. Crook County is ranked just 11th in the OSAA power rankings.

That means that unless the Cowboys win the Intermountain Conference championship, they will be on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

Since the OSAA has begun seeding the playoffs based on power rankings, it is rare for a road team to win in the first round.

Pendleton is the lone Intermountain team ranked in the top 10 in the state. Like the Cowboys, the Buckaroos are currently 6-2 in conference play, and it seems likely that one of the two teams will win the league championship.

After winning the first half of the league season, it looked like Crook County was in the driver's seat and controlled its own destiny.

However, a league-opening loss to The Dalles may come back to haunt Crook County.

After going 4-1 in the first half of the league season, the Cowboys suffered their second league loss last week when they fell to the Buckaroos.

That leaves Pendleton in the driver's seat for the league title.

The Buckaroos have a much easier schedule to close out the regular season, with games tonight at The Dalles (8-15 overall, 2-6 league) and Tuesday at Ridgeview (4-17 overall, 1-7 conference).

Meanwhile, the Cowboys host Ridgeview tonight. However, Crook County then has to go on the road to Redmond (12-10, 5-3), a team that is fighting for its playoff life.

Should the Cowboys win out, they will be guaranteed at least a share of the league title.

Still, with Pendleton ranked higher in the power rankings, it is likely that the Buckaroos wll finish as the league's top seed.i

Regardless of where the Cowboys end up, they are finally earning respect in the rest of the state.

For the first time all season, the team has shown up in the coaches poll. Crook County is not yet in the top 10 in the rankings; however, they are the lone team listed in "others" in the poll, essentially ranking 11th in the state.

Should the Cowboys manage to win the league championship, they will host a first-round playoff game on Saturday, March 7, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

Should the Cowboys finish either second or third, they will be on the road for the first round.

Current likely opponents for the Cowboys -- should they earn a home game -- would be either Willamette (13-8, 7-5) or Milwaukie (14-7, 7-4), both teams that on paper the Cowboys can handle.

Should the Cowboys finish in either second or third, likely opponents would be either South Albany (15-5, 8-4) or West Albany (16-5, 11-2).

Crook County played South Albany early in the year, falling far behind early, then mounting a comeback before losing 67-66.

Both South and West Albany play in the Mid-Willamette Conference, arguably the toughest Class 5A league in the state.

However, Crook County played a solid preseason schedule, so it is used to tough opponents. In addition, of its six losses, five have come to teams that have already locked up playoff spots in their respective divisions.

Perhaps more importantly, since the league-opening loss to The Dalles, Crook County has shown the ability to win close games.

After being unable to finish its league schedule a year ago due to weather, the Intermountain Conference took the unusual step of finishing the league schedule an entire week earlier than the remaining Class 5A leagues.

That means that teams from the IMC are going to have to sit and wait to find out who they will be playing.

That could be either a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, time off allows players to get healthy and rested. On the other hand, they could get rusty.

Regardless of the final outcome, Crook County should be proud of what they have accomplished so far this year.

However, they need to stay hungry because there is still a lot of work to do if the Cowboys hope to reach the state tournament, which will be held Thursday through Saturday, March 11-13, at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

Here's hoping the Cowboys can get the job done.

Lon Austin is the sports editor for the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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