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Kevin Sanchez pours in 30 points to lead the Cowboys to an 81-66 home-court victory over the visiting Mustangs as Crook County advances to the state basketball tournament for just the second time in school history

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kevin Sanchez goes strong to the basket for two of his game-high 30 points as the Crook County Cowboys defeated the Milwaukie Mustangs 81-66 Saturday night in Prineville. The victory advanced the Cowboys to the state tournament, which will begin Wednesday, March 11 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis. 
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. 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.

"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 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 it 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 and the Cowboys led 19-16 at the end of the first period.

Missed free throws were 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.

"It hurts," said Milwaukie head coach Don Law. "We didn't hit free throws tonight. 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.

That was as close as the Mustangs would get. With Crook County junior Kevin Sanchez leading the way, the Cowboys scored 14 of the next 20 points as they took control of the game, building a 33-22 lead.

Sanchez scored 11 of his game-high 30 points in the period.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jrei Ramirez came off the bench to score 10 points in the Cowboy victory."I knew that the team that could control their emotions the most was going to win the game," Sanchez said. "It's a whole different game when it comes to the playoffs. It's not your normal game."

Although the two teams traded baskets late in the period, Crook County still rolled into the half with a 42-29 lead.

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.

"That group was really aggressive," Sanchez said. "They were known for reaching, kind of like Ridgeview, but bigger and stronger and more talented. It makes you work really hard and you have to make sure that every pass is secure."

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 boards 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 Mustangs' 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.

"It's like we are dreaming right now," Sanchez added. "Everything you wanted growing up — it's happening, and we are making history."

"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 ended their season with a 17-8 record.

"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."

LILAH JOHNSON FOR THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kevin Sanchez finishes cutting down the net as the Cowboys celebrated following their victory Saturday night. 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."

Crook County was the lone Intermoutain Conference team to advance to the state playoffs.

Redmond was blasted 90-50 by No. 2-ranked Silverton, while Pendleton lost a close game to Willamette, 57-50.

Cowboys face Churchill

The Cowboys have the unenviable task of playing No. 1-ranked Churchill in the opening round of the tournament. Churchill reached the quarterfinals with an 85-35 pounding of Crescent Valley.

Churchill finished the game with five players in double figures including Brioan Goracke, Samaje Morgan, Silas Bennion Isaiah Wallace and Dylan Carson.

As they have done all season, Churchill used a tenacious defense and red-hot shooting to route their opponent. Churchill never trailed against Crescent Valley as they forced 25 steals and made 56 percent of their shots from the floor, including 10 three-pointers.

The Lancers, who are coached by former Redmond head coach Kelly Bokn, are 23-3 on the year with their only losses coming in December.

Since falling to No. 3-ranked Crater in the Les Schwab Invitational, the Lancers have rattled off 18 consecutive wins.

Churchill has seldom been tested the second half of the season. The Lancers are averaging more than 71 points a game, while holding opponents to just 51 points a contest.

That is despite playing in the Midwestern League, which has shown itself to be one of the toughest 5A leagues in the state with three teams advancing to the state quarterfinals.

Churchill is a senior-laden team with loads of talent. The Lancers attempt to create matchup problems with 6-5 and 6-6 guards Kaelan O'Neil and Goracke able to both shoot from outside and post up should they be guarded by smaller players.

Churchill does not have a true post player on their team, although they do have four players 6-4 or taller.

The one area where Crook County may have an advantage is in the low post where Arnold has been dominant the last month of the season.

With Kevin Sanchez red-hot down the stretch, the Cowboys may be able to keep pace with the Lancers provided they handle the defensive pressure as well as they did Saturday night against Milwaukie.

"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.

The winner of Wednesday's game will advance to the state semifinals where they will face the winner of No. 5-ranked West Albany and No. 4-ranked Wilsonville in a 6:30 p.m. game on Thursday.

Meanwhile the loser will fall into the consolation bracket where they will play at 9 a.m., also on Thursday.

Crook County 81, Milwaukie 66

Saturday, March 8

At Crook County

Milwaukie 16 13 19 18 — 66

Crook County 19 23 16 23 — 81

Milwaukie (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.

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