Teams head to Baker looking for state spots

By Observer staff February 19, 2014 10:45 am

With three spots into the state playoffs, two teams are nearly assured of punching tickets — Imbler and Powder Valley. Both teams cruised through the rest of the league schedule after splitting games against each other.

The Panthers achieved success while learning on the job. Powder Valley had the comfort of bringing back an experienced core of players. 

The rest of the league has been up and down. The safe bet is on Imbler meeting up with the Badgers for the fourth time this season in the tournament championship game, while Cove and Pine Eagle fight for the final spot. 

The teams from Wallowa County — Wallowa and Joseph — would need something special to happen to make it past Thursday’s opening round. But if one team could, it would be the Eagles.

But as the old saying goes, there’s a reason why the games are played instead of just looking at the paper

Imbler (18-3 overall, 9-1 OOL)

The Panthers took a while to get the motor clicking, but still finished at the top of the Old Oregon League standings. Despite the turnover of starters, Mike Mills got the role players up to speed quickly enough to once again force a coin flip with Powder Valley for the top seed into the postseason tournament. Senior point guard Kyle Johnson is the glue, but the supporting cast has picked up its game throughout the season. Senior Eli Bowers and junior Joe Griffin picked up their level of play to give the Panthers more of an outside attack. Sophomore Trace Vancleave has been the biggest addition to the starting line-up. He can score inside with a variety of post moves, and rebounds extremely well. 

Imbler has a first-round bye in the tournament. 

Powder Valley (19-1 overall 9-1 OOL)

It’s no shock that the Badgers were able to grab one of the top spots in the district. Loaded with talented seniors, Powder Valley dropped just one game all season — a league loss to Imbler. The Badgers are the most complete team with talent at every position, and a bench that can score. Marcus Pratt does an excellent job leading the fast-paced offense that makes spectators winded from watching it. Tyler Robinson and Logan Allen give the Badgers two post scorers, both who have the ability to stretch the floor. Allen is more successful from the baseline, while Robinson likes the 3-pointer from the top of the key. Jason Benites and Chace Dixon round out the talented starting five. Both Benites and Dixon can knock down the outside shots, and have the ability to score at the rim.

Powder Valley has a first-round bye. 

Cove (13-8 overall, 6-4 OOL)

The Leopards have the best chance of grabbing the final league spot to the state tournament. Cove’s season has been marked by inconsistency — winning two games and losing one. While the Leopards have players that can score, it’s pressure that gets to them. Powder Valley showcased that point in the final game of the regular season, using a full-court press to open the first quarter on a 22-0 run.

Jayden Moore is the floor general, and he has a good mid-range game. Derek Murchison shots the outside shot very well, but needs to try and score in the paint more often. At 6-foot-1, he’s one of the taller players in the league. Colton DeMeerleer is a slasher that has the ability to get to the rim. Freshman Brandon McGilvray, however, may be the best scoring option the Leopards have. He’s fearless in the paint, and has developed his mid-range game throughout the season. 

Cove will play Joseph at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Wallowa (3-17 overall, 2-8 OOL)

The obvious issue for Wallowa this season has been putting points on the board. The Cougars average a league low 37 points per game. Spencer Shelton is the go-to scoring option on the team. He has the best dribbling ability on the team, and can score inside, as well as driving to the basket. The only problem is, the Cougars struggle to hit shots from the outside, allowing opposing teams to pack the paint. That leaves little room for Shelton’s drives, or for Chandler Burns to work in the paint. Chaz Murray is a good slasher too, but, often has everyone at the rim to contest the shot. If the Cougars can start to hit some shots from the outside — they shot 27 percent on the season from behind the arc — a first round win could happen. It will be up to Shelton and Karl Wellens to make that happen.

Wallowa will open the tournament against Pine Eagle at 2:15 Thursday.

Joseph (5-16 overall, 1-9 OOL)

Joseph ended an 11-game losing streak at the right time, picking up a win against Pine Eagle in the regular season finale. While the Eagles finished last in the league, they weren’t that far off from being a mid-tier team. Joseph lost to the Spartans in the first meeting by five points. Wallowa’s two wins were by a combined five points, including a 51-50 loss on the road. The main issue comes with the streakiness of the shooting. Joseph has players that can score inside, and a few that can score outside. Ben Smallen and Will Story give Joseph a paint presence. Cayden DeLury and Seth Beckman can hit from the outside, but sometimes the shots stop falling. 

The Eagles open the tournament against Cove at 8 p.m. Thursday.