Vale’s Gracee Jacobs battles McKenzie Hoyt of Burns during an Eastern Oregon League game Saturday night. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
VALE – Burns head coach Brandon McMullen’s face didn’t show much emotion after the game with league rival Vale Saturday night. Understandably, he was pleased after his No.1-ranked Hilanders escaped the Viking gym with a 50-46 Eastern Oregon League win.
Yet there was no mistaking a subtle sense of relief in McMullen’s demeanor, as he reflected on what seemed just another league game but quickly evolved into a four-quarter endurance test.
Saturday night’s game was a bruising, physical contest where the Viking girls delivered a season’s worth of punishment within the space of four quarters.
How bruising? The Hilanders (6-0, 19-1 overall) lost their starting post player early in the game to an injury, then her replacement was hurt a short time later and forced out.
Meanwhile, the Lady Vikings put together a ferocious home stand, swarming the Hilanders on defense and fighting for rebounds and second-chance shots for most of the game.
“Vale always plays us tough,” said McMullen.
Vale’s Emersyn Johnson tries to stop Allie Hueckman of Burns from a layup during an Eastern Oregon League game Saturday night in Vale. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
McMullen compared Saturday night’s contest to the last time the Hilanders lost – a 55-48 non-league setback against Melba at the end of December.
“We never fought this kind of adversity this season,” said McMullen.
While McMullen might not have been surprised by the Lady Viking’s intensity, his squad struggled early and often Saturday night.
The Lady Vikings trailed 11-10 at the end of the first quarter and then capitalized on a string of 3-point jump shots to seemingly take control in the second stanza. The Lady Vikings built a 24-18 edge at the 2:16 mark of the second quarter and led 29-21 at halftime.
“I thought we competed hard. A few things didn’t roll our way,” said Vale coach Jason Johnson.
Burns used a precise offensive effort in the second half and began to pull away from the Vikings. Aundraya Ceja’s 3-point jumper with 1:29 left pushed the visitors ahead 50-43 and sealed the win.
Burns kept its composure against a motivated Vikings squad but the Hilanders also received a huge boost from sophomore wing Allie Hueckman, who poured in 26 points.
Gracee Jacobs led the Vikings with 16 points while Emersyn Johnson added 10 for Vale.
“Gracee did a good job tonight and I thought Emerysn Johnson had a good game,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the Viking’s swarming, physical defense is a Vale trademark.
“We pride ourselves on playing hard,” he said.
Cold shooting in the third quarter hurt the Vikings, said Johnson.
“And we made a couple of defensive mistakes that led to easy baskets,” said Johnson.
The Vikings (4-3 EOL) are in second place in league standings behind Burns.
They will take on Riverside Friday and then face Umatilla Saturday. Both games are in Vale.