The Crook County Cowboys made history Saturday night as they defeated the Milwaukie Mustangs 81-66 to reach the state tournament for just the second time in school history.
Playing in front of a packed home crowd in the first home playoff game in school history the Cowboys looked poised and in control as they never trailed in the contest.
"It means a lot," said senior guard Jrei Ramirez. "Every one of us had a dream our freshman year to get to be league champs and beyond and we finally have the right group to make it happen and make history."
The Cowboys jumped out to an early lead and withstood several runs by the Mustangs, before pulling away late as Milwaukie was forced to foul in an attempt to extend the game.
Milwaukie played an aggressive full court press the entire game and at times it worked to perfection as the Mustangs were able to force turnovers. However, most of the evening Crook County was able to break the press and get easy baskets.
"It hurts," said Milwaukie head coach Don Law. "I've been pleased with my kids' effort since last spring and the amount of work they have put in until now. It's been the first time that we have been in the playoffs for a couple of years, so they didn't have anyone to go look to. I think it wasn't our night."
The Cowboys jumped out to an early 2-0 lead when Caleb Arnold was fouled going to the hoop and made both free throws.
Milwaukie quickly tied the score on a basket by Hector Penaloza.
However, Crook County scored the next seven points to take a 9-2 lead. Milwaukie battled back, tying the score at 9-9 on a basket by Keshawn Myles.
Jesse Sanchez answered with a basket for the Cowboys as they quickly regained the lead. Once again Milwaukie tied the game at 11-11 on a basket by Penaloza. However, it was the last time that the Mustangs would be tied the entire game.
Crook County scored the next six points and when Ramirez hit a two with just over a minute remaining in the quarter the Cowboys led 16-11.
Abel Nunez fouled Alileyon Ford on a long three-point attempt with .5 seconds remaining in the half giving Ford three free throws. However, the Mustang senior could only convert on one of the three free throws and the Cowboys led 19-16 at the end of the first period.
Missed free throws was a problem that would come back to haunt the Mustangs the remainder of the contest.
Crook County hit on 28 of 36 free throws in the game, while Milwaukie was able to convert just 13 of 34 free throws.
"We didn't hit free throws tonight," Law said. "We didn't finish around the rim and we let them get easy shots right on the off side block and we didn't block out. I think if we would have hit our free throws and done the things, we've done all year long it would have been a different outcome, but we didn't have it."
The Milwaukie press forced a Crook County turnover to start the second quarter and the Mustangs capitalized, with Ford hitting a basket to cut the Cowboy lead to one at 19-18.
It was as close as the Mustangs would get. The Cowboys scored 14 of the next 20 points in the contest as they rolled out to a 33-22 lead. The two teams traded baskets the remainder of the half as the Cowboys went into the locker room leading 42-29.
Crook County junior guard Kevin Sanchez scored 11 of his game-high 30 points in the quarter to propel the Cowboys to the double digit lead.
"At times we handled their pressure well," Crook County head coach Jason Mumm said. "At other times I felt like we gave them some freebies. We gave them some opportunities for easy ones that we shouldn't have but for the most part we handled the pressure well.
The Mustangs cut the Cowboy lead to 10 or under three times in the second half, but each time the Cowboys responded with a run of their own. Crook County led 58-48 at the end of three periods and led 73-60 with 1:33 left when Milwaukie was forced to foul to stop the clock.
The strategy could have worked, but the Cowboys converted on 11 of 17 free throws in the quarter, including nine in the final minute and a half of the game.
In addition to a career high 30 points from Sanchez, senior post Caleb Arnold and senior guard Jrei Ramirez were also in double figures.
Sanchez hit five twos, two threes, and went 14-17 from the free throw line in the game, with most of the free throws coming in the decisive second half.
Arnold scored 19 points, with many coming on offensive rebounds as he finished with 10 rebounds in the game. Meanwhile, Ramirez came off the bench when several Cowboy starters got in early foul trouble to hit 10 points.
Foul problems plagued both teams the entire game as Colton Corder fouled out for the Mustangs and Hogan Smith fouled out for the Cowboys.
Crook County also got productivity from Cayden Lowenbach and Jesse Sanchez, who scored nine points apiece.
Led by senior Mason Plumb the Mustangs had four players in double figures. Plumb finished with 14 points, while Ford, a senior, added 13, Penaloza, a junior went for 12, and Corder, a senior, added 10. Freshman Logan Law also had a solid offensive game, scoring nine points, all on three-pointers.
"It hurts really bad," Plumb said of the loss. "We were trying to go far in state and it's – like I can't describe it. We had some mishaps. We were playing a road game, especially this far out you can't have mistakes. It's hard coming down four hours away with all the home fans, but we had time to warm up, so no excuses."
The Mustangs forced the Cowboys into 15 turnovers in the game, while Milwaukie turned the ball over 13 times themselves. Milwaukie also outrebounded the Cowboys 40-31, despite the 10 rebounds from Arnold.
"It was nothing that we didn't practice for," Ramirez said of the Mustang's pressure and rebounding. "We have a great coaching staff and they put a lot of time and effort into scouting our opponents, so we weren't afraid, we were ready for everything."
Ford finished with 11 rebounds for Milwaukie, while Corder pulled down six, and Plumb, Penaloza and Keshawn Myles each grabbed five.
Kevin Sanchez pulled down nine rebounds to go along with his 30 points and Lowenbach added eight.
The Cowboys, who haven't been to the state tournament since 1948 when they went 0-2 are excited about the opportunity.
"Man, I've only been around here for four or five years, but this community, the school the people that have been here before me – the people who have put in all the work and effort that means a lot," Mumm said about the opportunity to play in the state tournament. "It means a lot to these kids. It means a lot to the coaching staff. It means a lot to the community. It's exciting and it's fun."
With the win the Cowboys improved to 17-6 on the year, while Milwaukie fell to 17-8.
"I'm just so proud of how hard our kids have worked, the time they have put in and where they've gotten," coach Law said. "When we started three years ago, when I took over, we had won one game. And the kids that are coming back next year have a lot of promise, they just need to put the time in that the seniors and they did last year."
Plumb was also pleased with what the Mustangs accomplished during the year.
"It was a good season and we worked really hard," he said. "I love playing with these guys and I love my coaches. It just wasn't the outcome that we wanted."
The Cowboys have the unenviable task of playing No. 1 ranked Churchill in the opening round of the tournament.
"We've still got work to do," Mumm said as the Cowboys cut down the nets in celebration. "We will play anybody. I'm sure there's more to say, but my emotions are everywhere right now."
Game time is 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 11 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
Crook County 81, Milwaukie 66At Crook CountyMilwaukie 16 13 19 18 – 66Crook County 19 23 16 23 – 81Milwaukie (66) – Mason Plumb 14, Ford 13, Penaloza 12, Corder 10, Law 9 Miles 5, Mey 3, McCord. Totals: 24 13-34 66.Crook County (81) – Kevin Sanchez 30, Arnold 19. Ramirez 10, J. Sanchez 9, Lowenbach 9, Graydon 4, Smith, Nunez. Totals: 25 28-36 81.Three-point goals – Milwaukie: Law 3, Ford, Plumb. Crook County: K. Sanchez 2, J. Sanchez.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.