MAUPIN – You can never underestimate the heart and will of a team fighting for their playoff lives.
Faced with the task of a win-or-out matchup on the road against No. 17 South Wasco County, the Dufur Rangers built a double-digit fourth quarter lead, but needed a free throw from Caleb Morris with six seconds left in the fourth quarter to secure a 64-60 victory over the Redsides Friday in a Big Sky Conference showdown in Maupin.
“You can never count out a desperate team,” said Morris, who was battling sickness, but still played 32 minutes. “We were very desperate tonight. We really wanted that win and we knew that we were going to do whatever it took to get it.”
In the fourth quarter, the Redsides fell behind by as much as 14 points early, and were down 63-52 with three minutes and six seconds left in regulation.
Dufur aided in the comeback attempt by missing five of its last six charity shots, three front-end tries, and turned the ball over five other times.
With less than 30 seconds in regulation, the Rangers turned the ball over, and David Ocacio made a feed to Loreto Morelli, who swished a jumper in the lane to make the score 63-58.
After a Redside timeout, Ocacio skied high for an inbounds steal and followed that up with a short baseline jumper to draw his team to within 63-60 with 21 ticks left on the watch.
Morris was then fouled with 9.4 seconds remaining.
The junior missed the front-end free throw, but Jake Kortge swatted the offensive rebound outside to an open Morris, who was fouled again with six seconds left.
Morris misfired on his first attempt, but he coolly rattled home the second attempt to run the count to 64-60.
The Redsides came back down for a missed 3-pointer and then Kortge swatted another layup attempt out of bounds as time expired.
“We saw it at the end there that David was attacking and Nathan was a couple of times,” said SWC head coach Jim Hull. “That was the difference. We waited too long to get going and I think that we just were in a shock of wondering why our shots were not falling and still shooting rather than making necessary changes. You hit just one more of those shots and shoot a little better from the free throw line (3 for 8 in the game) and it is a different outcome.”
For the most part, Dufur staked control of matters, only falling behind by a 2-0 score with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
The Rangers, using nine points from Bryson Caldwell in the opening frame, led 19-16 after eight minutes went in the books.
Dufur added to that lead in the second frame, leading by a 28-18 count with 4:38 left after a layup by Kortge.
Then, Travis Hayes sank a long ball, Kortge answered with a layup, and Ocacio and Colton Nannini added consecutive layups to draw the Redsides to 30-25 with 2:14 left in the half.
Kortge, who scored a team-high 19 points, capped the second quarter and a 15-9 Ranger output with back-to-back jumpers to move his team ahead, 34-25 at the break.
“We made shots tonight and we also made some good passes in the interior,” said Dufur head coach Tony White. “We had some penetration, then they would sag off and we hit the open man pretty well. Not to mention, we had a lot of good looks from their press. The press worked a little bit late in the game, but we broke it a lot. We had a lot of good looks at the rim from press break.”
The Ranger lead swelled to nine points, 42-33, on a jumper and a foul shot from Connor Uhalde with 4:23 remaining in the third, but then SWC went on a 7-2 run to inch closer at 44-40 with 1:52 in the third.
However, Caldwell hit on an up-and-under, Kortge drilled a jumper and Uhalde banked in a 3-pointer to swell the Ranger advantage to 51-40 with 47 ticks on the clock.
Morelli stopped the run with a jumper and Ocacio hit 1 of 2 free throws to draw the Redsides to within 51-43 entering the final period.
With Dufur facing foul difficulties from Bailey Keever, Jake Little was thrust into action and he hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and senior center Austin Olson added a layup to help the cause, as the lead grew to 59-48 with 5:37 left in the fourth.
Ocacio had a steal and a layup, Kortge swished a short shot, and Ocacio then nailed a jumper to make it 61-52 with 3:47 remaining in the game.
After a Caldwell layup and missed free throw, SWC used hoops by Ocacio, Nannini and Morelli to make it 63-58 with less than 30 seconds in the game.
SWC finished with 26 field goals, five from long distance.
Ocacio had a game-high 24 points, 20 coming in the second half, Morelli added 16 and Hayes wound up with 12 points.
Coach Hull credited the defensive play put forth by the Rangers.
“It was an attitude thing more than anything else,” Morris said. “Last time we played them, we weren’t the aggressors and this time we wanted to do that. That is the biggest thing is we just decided that we were going to take the game to them instead of scaling back and letting them hit their threes and get their shots at the rim.”
Kortge had 19 points to lead four Rangers in double figures. All told, Dufur notched 27 field goals and went 3 of 12 from the line.
Caldwell dropped 15 points, Morris and Uhalde added 10 apiece, and Little scored six points.
Moments after a disappointing loss to Sherman, White said his team took it hard, so he decided to gather his veterans for a pep talk before Friday’s tilt.
“We had a little conference and I spoke with the juniors,” the first-year coach said. “I basically just told them, ‘you know what? this one is on you. If you guys are going to respond and bring this team to where it needs to be, then we will win. If you guys sit back and watch things happen, then we are done tomorrow.’ I basically just called them out and they answered the call.”
More than anything, Friday’s game further muddles the Big Sky West Division playoff picture.
There were still games to be played Saturday, so some additional leapfrogging would transpire to determine the final two district participants.
The team with the high RPI would snatch the No. 2 seed and avoid No. 1 Horizon Christian. The other two would lock horns in a tiebreaker at 6 p.m. Monday at Kurtz Gym in The Dalles.
As of Saturday morning, SWC (12-9 overall, 3-3 league) had an 18 RPI, Sherman (13-10, 4-4) posted a 20 and Dufur (14-7, 4-4) came in with a 21 ranking.
“I am a little disappointed in the loss, but we did play hard. They gave the effort,” Hull said. “The light is still on for us. We can see it and we are going for it. It is kind of a hump, a little bump in the road. If we can learn from this game and realize that we have another opportunity to play another day, we can be ready for the next one.”