Nyssa senior Jorge Ortiz looks out for an open teammate Umatilla's defense attempt to block him. The Bulldogs clinched the district title after defeating the the Vikings 63-57. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
NYSSA – One by one Friday night, the members of the Nyssa boys varsity basketball team stepped up a silver ladder and gently but firmly cut a strand of the net that dangled from the hoop at the south end of their home court.
A time-worn ritual, the slicing of the net marked the finale of Nyssa’s 63-57 win over Umatilla, a triumph that gave the Bulldogs the district crown and a home game in the first round of the state playoffs next weekend.
Omar Jaquez scored 20 points and teammate Jorge Ortiz chipped in 13 as Nyssa manufactured a spectacular fourth-quarter rally to claim the win.
The scoring pendulum swung both ways during the game with each team seemingly taking control before stalling.
“This was a game of runs,” said Umatilla coach Scott Bow.
The Bulldogs trailed by 12 points at the end of the third quarter and the Vikings seemed poised to clinch the victory.
Then the momentum began to switch.
“Our kids never gave up and they kept fighting back,” said Aaron Mills, Nyssa coca.
The Bulldogs began to chip away at the Viking lead until Leonardo Barba’s jumper with 3:30 to go knotted the contest, 52-52.
Nyssa’s Wyatt Jensen then hit two, back-to-back three-pointers to effectively seal the win.
Mills said the Bulldogs – riding the wave of an eight-game win streak - started the contest “a little tight.”
“But the kids stepped up in the fourth,” said Mills.
Nyssa (9-1, 17-8) also took care of the ball against the Vikings (6-4, 19-7).
“That is one of our strengths,” said Mills.
Mills said another is its resilience.
He said as the Bulldogs entered the final stanza, they showed no signs of panic. They knew, he said, what they had to do. And the lesson was clear.
“You can’t ever doubt yourself,” said Mills.
Uriel Garcia paced the Vikings with 23 points.
Now Nyssa must prepare for its first-round state game against Rainier, from the Coastal Range League Friday.
Rainier brings a 10-2 league record into Friday’s game. Rainier is 14-8 overall.
After the game Mills stood away from the crowd and pondered the game. He, too, marched up the ladder and snipped at the net. The net, of course, is more than fabric but symbolizes a season and hope for prep success in the playoffs. Mills thought over a question and peered out over the nearly empty court.
“We earned this,” he said.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.