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Crook County's boys basketball team competes in state tournament for the first time since 1948 and wins first tournament game in school history

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jrei Ramirez drives to the basket during the Cowboys state tournament victory over the West Albany Bulldogs last Thursday. Ramirez is one of four seniors on the Crook County roster. The Crook County Cowboys boys basketball squad bas had a season filled with highs and lows.

The Cowboys started the season with just a 5-4 record, then improved to 8-4 before dropping the opening game of Intermountain Conference play.

"We weren't worried," head coach Jason Mumm would say at the time. "We deliberately played a tough preseason schedule."

From that point on, the Cowboys were nearly flawless, going 8-1 the remainder of league play, winning the Cowboys' first-ever Intermountain Conference title.

Crook County reached the state tournament for just the second time in school history, the last time was 1948, and won their first state tournament game in school history.

Still, the season ended in disappointment for the Cowboys.

Crook County lost their quarterfinal game to No. 1-ranked Churchill by a 70-47 score.

The Cowboys rebounded to blast fifth-ranked West Albany 72-50 in the consolation semifinals to earn a berth in the fourth-place game, only to find out less than an hour later that the remainder of the tournament was canceled.

"Obviously, our guys are disappointed," Mumm said. "But we aren't the only disappointed team. All the other six teams that didn't get to finish are disappointed too. But it was good to finish on a win."

Because the tournament was never finished, the OSAA did not pick an all-state team.

That was a shame as Crook County guard Kevin Sanchez would almost certainly have been on the team, while post Caleb Arnold should also have received consideration.

Sanchez led the tournament in scoring with 42 points in two games, averaging 21 points a game.

Nate Bittle, a 6-11 post from Crater, averaged more points per game with 35 in the Comets' opening round game against South Albany. However, Bittle only played one game in the tournament.

Sanchez also led the tournament in assists with 10 and rebounding with 20.

Arnold was also high in the rebounding totals with 12 and was fourth in points with 26.

Cayden Lowenbach also appeared in the top eight in scoring at the tournament with 18 points in the Cowboys two games.

The Cowboys return a lot of firepower next season.

Sanchez returns as do fellow juniors Lowenbach, Jesse Sanchez, Hogan Smith and Abel Nunez.

However, that doesn't mean that Crook County isn't losing a lot of talent.

Seniors Caleb Arnold, Jordan Graydon and Jrei Ramirez provided the Cowboys with scoring, tough defense and team leadership. A fourth senior, Garret Bernard, served as the team's manager all season after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the football season.

"All four of those seniors are great in the classroom and they are great people to be around," Mumm said. "There's no words to describe what the seniors meant to the program. I always like to say leave the program better than when yhou entered it and nobody can argue that these seniors did not do that."

Mumm added that not only were the seniors good leaders, but they took care of each other and of other players on the team.

"All of those seniors are going to be great men," Mumm said. "They are just qualifty individuals. You can't ask for a better group of seniors. They don't have the senior-mindset where 'I'm a senior so I get to play,' or 'I'm a senior, so I get to do this.' That's not what this group did."

Although the senior group will be hard to replace, the Cowboys still have a lot of firepower.

Kevin Sanchez was the Intermountain Conference player of the year, while Lowenbach and Jesse Sanchez both had multiple double-digit games.

In addition, both Smith and Nunez provide defensive toughness.

However, Mumm said that in order to return to the playoffs the team will need to see some other players step up.

Who those players will be is still up in the air, but Mumm is confident that the team will be fine.

He noted that both the JV and JV2 teams showed a lot of improvement during the season. In addition, several other players picked up valuable varsity experience this year.

Juniors Trevyn Smith, Ozzie Reed and Braden Ross all saw time on the varsity court, as did sophomore Dominik Engstrom and freshman Cal Pickhardt.

"We have to have three to four guys step up," Mumm said. "We have to figure out who that is. It starts in the off season and this summer. We will play some guys and we will rotate some guys just like we did this last summer. To be honest with you, the eight or nine guys that we played in the summer are not the eight guys that were in the rotation this year. You can't choose a team in the summer and it's going to be the work that they put in and it's going to be how they grow as individuals, not only on the basketball court, but in the classroom, and how they are in the community. We want good people and we want good basketball players."

Mumm added that this season's success was possible because of his coaching staff and that staff has a lot to do with his optimism for next season.

"I can't say enough about my coaching staff," he said. "Best coaching staff in the state. I would put them up against any coaching staff just with their player development — just with their game planning and with their knowledge of the game and with how they give ideas and talk strategy."

Those coaches, Jeff Lowenbach and Conner Booster, are both planning on returning next season.

"They brought both of their groups a long way from start to finish," Mumm said. "And they do a great job of scouting, great game planning, great knowledge and adjustments at halftime, adjustments between quarters and adjustments during timeouts. They have great understanding and see things that I miss. They are just unbelievable."

With so much firepower returning, along with a solid experienced coaching staff, Mumm is excited about the future.

"The future is bright," he said. "We have a lot coming back. We have got younger groups at the high school, middle school and youth levels, that are developing. I like where the future of Crook County High School basketball is going."


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