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Crook County and Pendleton both finish the Intermountain Conference season with 8-2 league records, but Cowboys hold the tiebreaker and earn a home playoff game

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kevin Sanchez goes to the basket for two of his 24 points as the Cowboys edged the Redmond Panthers 63-59 Tuesday night in Redmond. The win gave the Cowboys a share of the Intermountain Conference title and a home playoff game that is tentatively set for Saturday, March 7 against a yet to be named opponent. It is the first home playoff game that the Cowboys have had in the history of Crook County High School.The Crook County High School boys basketball team has never hosted a playoff game.

The Cowboys last won a district championship in 1948, when they won a league tournament to earn a trip to the state tournament, where they went 0-2. Since then, Crook County has had just six winning season; just four teams have advanced to the state playoffs, none to the state tournament.

In fact, the Cowboys have won just two playoff games in the last 70 years.

The Cowboys are once again back on top after edging the Redmond Panthers 63-59 Tuesday night in Redmond. The win sealed Crook County's claim to a share of the Intermountain Conference title.

"We found out for sure this morning that we had a chance at the No. 1 seed," Crook County head coach Jason Mumm said. "I have to give it up to our athletic director (Rob Bonner). He's the one that found it in our SOP's this morning in appendix whatever. We didn't tell our guys because it didn't matter unless we won, so we waited until we won, and then we broke the news. And you heard how excited we were."

The Cowboys had gone to the locker room after the win thinking that they were on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

When it was announced that they had instead earned a home game, the roar was so loud that it could be heard in the commons area through a set of double doors.

"We put in a lot of hard work to get here, and it's finally paying off," Crook County senior post Caleb Arnold said following the game. "This is what we were expecting from the beginning of the season and from summer ball when we all had this group. We just stayed focused, and it came out great."

That doesn't mean that the victory was easy, however. The third place Panthers battled the Cowboys to the very end.

Playing in front of a raucous home crowd on senior night, the Panthers jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

However, after the slow start, the Cowboys turned red hot. A 3-pointer by Kevin Sanchez gave Crook County its first lead of the game at 5-4. Two points by Arnold gave Crook County a 7-6 lead. The Cowboys increased the lead to eight points at the end of the first period as they led 22-14.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Caleb Arnold goes to the basket for two of his game-high 25 points in the Cowboys 63-59 victory over the Redmond Panthers, Tuesday night in Redmond.However, Redmond battled back, twice cutting the lead to three early in the second quarter.

However, Crook County went on another run, scoring 10 consecutive points to lead 35-22.

However, Redmond battled back again, narrowing the lead to just 37-33 at the half.

The Panthers scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 37. However, Redmond was never able to regain the lead. Each time they would cut into Crook County's lead, the Cowboys would answer.

The Cowboys led by four at the end of the third period, 49-45.

Crook County pushed the lead to six on a driving layup by Jrei Ramirez early in the fourth quarter.

Once again, the Panthers battled back, closing to within a bucket at 56-54 on a rebound and follow basket by Dylan Moss with 1:10 remaining in the contest.

"We practice those situations in practice all the time," Mumm said of playing in a close game down the stretch. "We put our guys through situations where we are up big and then they make a run, and now we are tied, so what do we do? How do we execute? How do we keep our cool? What are we going to run in those situations? We practice those situations so when we get in games like this with 5,000 people watching and you can't hear anything, we already know what we are going to do and how we are going to do it."

The standing-room-only crowd had a large contingent of Crook County fans.

"I love that atmosphere," Mumm said. "That's what high school basketball is all about."

That was as close as Redmond would get. They began fouling Crook County in an attempt to stop the clock and get the ball back. The Cowboys were up to the challenge, making seven of eight free throws in the period.

After Cayden Lowenbach made a pair of free throws, the Cowboys led 61-56. However, once again Redmond answered as Moss scored on an inbounds play.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Cayden Lowenbach goes up for two of his six points as the Cowboys clinched the Intermounain Conference championship with a 63-59 victory over the Redmond Panthers Tuesday night in Redmond.Kevin Sanchez made a pair of free throws with under four seconds remaining to increase the Crook County lead to 63-56, and fans began to leave the building.

Moss then hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final margin five points.

"This win means a lot because it's confidence going into the playoffs," Kevin Sanchez said. "It feels amazing that we've accomplished something with all the hard work we've put in. We made history."

Arnold led the Cowboys with 25 points, while Kevin Sanchez finished with 24. Cayden Lowenbach added six points and Jesse Sanchez four.

Arnold scored many of his second-half points on pick-and-rolls with Kevin Sanchez, who dished the ball inside to Arnold once the Panthers switched defenders.

"We were staying focused, and we stayed determined, and we knew what we needed to do, and we came out and did it," Arnold said. "Moss is pretty strong, but he's manageable. Whenever we did the pick-and-roll, it really worked."

The Panthers were led by Moss with 20, while Javin Westendorf was also in double figures with 13.

Arnold also led all rebounders with 11, while Kevin Sanchez pulled down seven and Lowenbach six.

Moss led the Panthers with seven boards, while Charlie Rawlins and Rhett Haigh each snared six.

Because Crook County's basketball game didn't start until nearly 8:30 p.m., Pendleton, who defeated Ridgeview 95-58 earlier in the evening, watched the final three quarters of the contest, waiting to see if it would win the league championship or finish in a tie with the Cowboys.

Both teams finished the league season with 8-2 league records. The two teams also split their season series.

With Pendleton ranked seventh in the OSAA power rankings and Crook County ranked 10th, the Cowboys believed that Pendleton held the tiebreaker until Tuesday morning, when Bonner discovered that the OSAA power rankings were not the first tiebreaker.

First came head to head meetings, which still left the two teams tied. The next tiebreaker looked at who had the better record against the higher-ranked teams in the league.

Both Pendleton and Crook County defeated third-place Redmond twice; however, the Cowboys defeated fourth-place Hood River Valley in both of their meetings, while the Buckaroos split with the Eagles.

That gave the Cowboys the tiebreaker and the league's No. 1 seed.

"It's everything to play at home because you have your home crowd behind you and a lot of support," Arnold said. "You know your own court. You know how it feels and how to shoot. We have a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs."

Crook County will have to wait a week to see who its first-round opponent will be.

That's because although the Intermountain Conference is finished for the year, the remaining three Class 5A leagues are still playing.

First-round games will not be announced until Tuesday, March 3, with games tentatively scheduled for Saturday, March 7.

Crook County 63, Redmond 59

Tuesday, February 25

At Redmond

Crook County 22 15 12 14 — 63

Redmond 14 19 12 14 — 59

Crook County (63) —Caleb Arnold 25, K. Sanchez 24, Lowenbach 6, J. Sanchez 4, Graydon 2, Ramirez 2, Nunez, Smith. Totals: 19 17-20 63.

Redmond (59) — Dylan Moss 20, Westendorf 13, Osborne 8, Haigh 5, Rawlins 4, Jones 3, Browning 2, Chambers 2, Hair 2. Totals: 18 6-10 59.

Three-point goals — Crook County: Arnold 4, K. Sanchez 4, J. Sanchez. Redmond: Moss 2, Osborne, Westendorf, Jones.

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