February 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By C.J. Gish

Observer Staff Writer

PENDLETON Imbler was ready to start pounding nails into Westside Christians coffin Tuesday, but somewhere along the line, the Panthers lost their hammer.

Ahead by nine points in the second quarter, the Imbler boys basketball team let the Eagles back into the game and eventually lost 66-57 in the first round of the OSAA-U.S. Bank Class 2A Basketball State Championships.

We had them on the ropes and didnt put them away, Imbler coach Ken Kramer said. They stuck around. We got tired at the end and didnt rebound very well.

Random Glenns 3-pointer with 4:34 left in the second quarter capped an 11-2 run that put the Panthers ahead 24-15.

Westside Christian (17-8) refused to fold, going on a run of its own to tie the game 26-all with 45 seconds left in the half.

Ian Culbreth and Brandon Campbell sank two baskets in the final 32 seconds of the half to put Imbler (20-5) ahead 30-26, but the Panthers opportunity to put the game away had slipped away.

In the second half, the lead either changed hands or was tied 11 times. Imblers last lead came with 6:44 left in the game when Kevin Johnson hit a 3-pointer, putting the Panthers ahead 46-45.

From there, the Eagles slowly pulled away by limiting Imbler to one-shot possessions.

The clincher came in the final two minutes. After Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 2:48 left to get Imbler within 56-55, Joe Kappler scored on a layup. Then a steal by the Eagles led to a layup and a 60-55 Westside lead with 1:43 to go.

A Culbreth layup off a Johnson steal with 1:23 left pulled Imbler within 60-57, but the Panthers were forced to foul to stop the clock and the Eagles then made six of eight free throws.

The first quarter saw six lead changes, but Imbler went ahead 15-13 on a Culbreth layup to close the quarter.

The loss marked the third straight year Imbler has fallen in the opening round at state after entering the tournament as the top seed from the Wapiti League.

Johnson scored 22 points, including four 3-pointers, for Imbler. Culbreth added 16 points..

Scott Churchill had 22 points for Westside Christian. Kappler added 16 and Trevor Weber scored 15.

Westside Christian boys 13 13 16 24 66

Imbler 15 15 11 16 57

Westside Christian Smith 0 4-4 4, Weber 7 1-2 15, Steputis, McGuire 0 2-2 2, Churchill 8 6-7 22, Jones 3 0-0 8, Kappler 6 4-6 16, Adams. Totals: 24 17-21 66.

Imbler Campbell 2 1-4 5, Johnson 8 2-2 22, Davis, I.Culbreth 8 0-0 16, Glenn 1 0-0 3, Grove, C.Culbreth 4 1-2 9, Pierce 1 0-0 2. Totals: 24 4-8 57.

Three-pointers Westside Christian, Jones 2; Imbler, Johnson 4, Glenn. Fouled out None. Total fouls Westside Christian 10, Imbler 15. Technical fouls None.