January 16, 2004 11:00 pm

WALLOWA — The Wallowa basketball boys announced loud and clear Friday night that they will be a major player in the Old Oregon League this season.

Fielding just six varsity players, the Cougars held off Cove 45-42 to force a three-way tie for first in the OOL. Cove came into this game undefeated in OOL play and ranked No. 4 in the state.

Wallowa coach Gerry McLain said this was a very intense game. Neither team ever held a lead of more than a few points, he said.

"It was a hard-fought game. Cove played a good game. We made enough points down the stretch to win," said McLain.

"We got behind and had to play catch-up the whole game. They (Wallowa) played really well. We gave it a heck of an effort," said Cove coach Todd Gorham. Gorham said his team made some mental mistakes down the stretch.

Wallowa is 3-1 in OOL play, and that one loss came on the road in overtime to Jordan Valley.

The Cougars thought they were facing a difficult season due to the loss of their best player, Randy Spaur, to a severe leg injury from football.

However, McLain said Spaur's injury may have had a silver lining because the boys learned to come together in his absence. "I think the kids turned into a better team (without Spaur)," said McLain.

Wallowa, tied for first place in the OOL with Cove and Jordan Valley, was led by Patrick Green's 19. Ryan Harshfield scored 11 while also guarding Cove star Devan Frank and holding him to five points.

Tom VanNice led the Leopards with 12 points while Josh Pfel scored nine.

Wallowa hosts Adrian today, while Cove (3-1 in OOL, 6-3 overall) travels to Powder Valley.

Wallowa 45, Cove 42

Cove boys 9 10 12 11 — 42

Wallowa 13 8 11 13 — 45

Cove — 1 0-0 3, Josh Pfel 4 1-2 9, Tanner Marshall 2 0-0 4, Sean Louden 2 0-0 4, Chris Taylor 2 0-0 5, Devan Frank 1 3-4 5, Tom VanNice 5 2-4 12, Andy Altenburg. Totals: 17 6-10 42.

Wallowa — Adam Evans 2 0-1 4, Patrick Green 8 2-4 19, Ryan Harshfield 5 0-1 11, Caleb Pringle 2 0-2 4, Dustin Byers 2 3-6 7, Kaleb Oveson. Totals: 19 5-14 45.

Three-pointers — Cove 2 (Locken, Taylor); Wallowa 2 (Green, Harshfield). Fouled out — none. Total fouls — Cove 13, Wallowa 12. Technical fouls — Cove.

JV score — Wallowa 48, Cove 41.