Jane Nelson has played only a handful of games for the Eastern Oregon women’s basketball team.
But the junior college transfer said she already knows about the high stakes of the rivalry with Southern Oregon, and it made an impact on her first game against the Raiders Friday night at Quinn Coliseum.
“Even on my visit and basically the first day of practice, you knew about it right from the start. Southern is our rival. We live to beat Southern,” she said.
Nelson scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, teammate Maren Herrud hit a crucial 3-pointer with just over 90 seconds to play, and the No. 17 Mountaineers held on for a 66-63 win over No. 14 SOU to begin a perfect weekend of Cascade Collegiate Conference action.
“They’re gamers, and they wanted this one,” Eastern Oregon Head Coach Anji Weissenfluh said of her team. “They were ready to go. We did what we needed to do when we needed to do it. Jane hit some big shots. Maren hit some big shots and (Khadija Neumeyer) had 11 rebounds and defended anyone we needed to defend.”
Nelson, who was a blistering 8-for-10 from the floor, hit all four of her 3-pointers, including two early in the fourth quarter to turn a four-point deficit into a 55-53 EOU lead with 8:13 to play. After SOU retook a 60-57 lead, Nelson grabbed a steal and a layup to keep the Mountaineers close.
“I just tried to take a little bit of leadership there and do what I could,” Nelson, who added three steals, said of her play in the fourth quarter. “The pressure was on at that point. I had to step it up a little bit more.”
Herrud, who scored 16 points, put in two free throws to give Eastern the lead, then drained a clutch 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Mountaineers a 64-60 advantage with 1:37 remaining.
“We have a whole lot of heart,” the senior said. “Everyone is on the same page. We all work our butts off for each other in practice day in and day out. We’ll always fight all season. Just like we fought to win this game.”
Herrud added she knew the instant she released the key triple that it was going in.
“I shot it and I was already excited,” she said.
Southern gave itself a chance in the closing seconds, forcing a turnover and getting one final look at a tie. But an open 3-pointer in the corner by Dominque Harding was long, and EOU held on to its lead.
The Mountaineers had their ups and downs in the contest. EOU committed 22 turnovers, started 1-for-9 from the free-throw line and allowed Southern to grab 19 offensive rebounds — including 15 after halftime.
But EOU also shot 50 percent from the floor, was 9-for-16 from 3-point range and made the key plays when it counted. In addition to the vital shots late, the Mountaineers went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final five pressure-packed minutes of the game.
“We’ve been working on (free throws) in situations (in practice) where there’s something on the line, like (running), so it helps in situations where there’s pressure,” Herrud said.
EOU appeared ready to run away early in a first half full of wild swings. The Mountaineers built an 18-7 lead seven minutes into the game. SOU rallied to take a 21-20 lead after one quarter and led as much as 33-25 in the second on a Destinee Jones jumper. But two jumpers by Andi Warn — both after she grabbed offensive rebounds — helped EOU go into the half up 36-35.
Southern bounced back for a 51-47 lead after three quarters but couldn’t maintain the advantage.
Daranda Hinkey led the Raiders with 16 points, while Jones and Ariel Augustine both had 11.
Kylie Smith had 12 points for the Mountaineers, and Madison Crews had seven assists.
Saturday, EOU never trailed as it secured a 71-61 win over Oregon Tech in Quinn Coliseum to move to 2-0 in CCC play. The victory ran Eastern’s home winning streak to 33 games, and its winning streak in CCC action — including tournament games — to 38 straight.
Herrud and Nelson again led the Mountaineers in scoring, with 11 and 10 points, respectively. The scoring, however, was much more spread out than it was Friday. Crews added nine points, both Neumeyer and Beverly Slater had eight, and Julia Hanni and Whitney Meier each added seven.
Slater had nine boards and Crews dished out five assists.
Eastern led by as much as 18 points in the second quarter and was up 42-30 at the break. OIT closed within 63-59 midway through the fourth quarter, but EOU ended the game on an 8-2 run, including hitting all six free throws in the final four minutes, for the win.
Bailey Nelson had 11 points to lead OIT.
Eastern (6-2 overall, 2-0 CCC) hosts the inaugural Coach Mike Memorial Tournament, honoring late EOU Assistant Coach Mike Weissenfluh, next weekend. Eastern plays an alumni game Saturday and faces Lewis and Clark College Sunday.