Against bigger 4A teams, Lady Bulldogs claim third at Dec. 28-30 Sisters Tournament.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Culver girls basketball players hold up three fingers, signifying their placement at the Sisters Tournament. The Bulldogs beat 4A teams Crook County and Estacada during the tournament.The tiny, but mighty team from Culver came up big last weekend in a tournament full of 4A teams.

The Lady Bulldogs were a late addition to the Dec. 28-30 Sisters Tournament after a scheduling snafu left them out of the Salem Academy Tournament, which they played in several years running.

For a 2A team supposedly standing small amongst bigger 4A teams, both in physical size and numbers, the Bulldogs didn't look the part.

They crashed a couple teams' runs by securing a third-place trophy at the tournament. Culver beat Estacada on Saturday and Crook County on Thursday, while also losing to Henley in between those two games.

Their three-day run would be notable on any given week. But when considering the fact that they played the latter two games without leading scorer and playmaker Irma Retano, it could be an important moment during the course of Culver's season.

Nearing the end of the first quarter against Crook County, Retano dove for a loose ball, and an opposing player jumped on top of her, landing on her neck, Culver head coach Scott Fritz said.

She sat the entire second quarter, but coaches determined she was well enough to check back in during the second half. After the game, however, Retano experienced additional pain. That led her to miss the following two games of the tournament.

With Retano out of the lineup, a number of girls embraced the opportunity of getting more looks at the basket.

"It may turn out to be the best thing to happen to us this year," Fritz said. "We rely so much on Irma, I think some of the girls ... learned the last two games they can be a factor scoring."

Against Henley, which ended up taking second at the tournament, Culver got a boost from the post in Espiranza Mendoza, who led the team with 10 points to go along with six rebounds.

Culver's array of scoring was at its best on Saturday morning when it beat Estacada 49-35.

LON AUSTIN/FOR THE PIONEER - Culver junior Mia Gamboa (right) returned to game action, after sitting out the previous few weeks with an ankle injury.
Mia Gamboa led the Bulldogs with 15 points, including a pair of made 3-pointers. But she was hardly alone.

Ryanne Scholl added 11 points, also pulling down four rebounds; Elly Bautista and Lesli Alvarado each chipped in seven points; plus, Mendoza and Mikayla Haessler combined to score nine more points.

Fritz noted after the tournament that the Bulldogs' top two players, Gamboa and Retano, seemingly can't stay on the court simultaneously. They only played together for a few quarters against Crook County, which was Gamboa's first game since early December, when she injured her ankle. Just as she was beginning to get back in the flow of the game, Retano was taken out of it.

"It's a little disheartening, but I think in the long run, it's going to benefit us greatly," Fritz said.

Culver played Gamboa more minutes against Crook County than initially planned, but Gamboa reported that her once-ailing ankle was fine.

Even with other players realizing their offensive potential of late, Gamboa's poise as a point guard has restored some order on a team that doesn't have many natural ballhandlers.

"We wanted to play her two, three minutes a quarter, but the game was tight enough until the fourth quarter that we kind of needed to keep her in there," Fritz said.

"She responded great. She wasn't timid, she was driving the lane. It was great to see. It really settles our team when she's out there."

Retano could return as early as Thursday, when the Bulldogs play host to Madras JV in what will be their final tune-up before Columbia Basin Conference play begins Jan. 12 against Pilot Rock.

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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