Rachel Wolfe (No. 23) battles for a rebound against Burns’ Allie Hueckman (No. 2) Saturday night. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
VALE – At the south end of the Vale High School gym Saturday night Viking girls varsity coach Jason Johnson couldn’t remember the last time his team finished the season undefeated.
Then one of his former assistants, Tom Huston, strolled by and Johnson asked him if he could recall the last perfect season.
The two men compared notes, dredged up memories from an array of hardwood seasons and finally decided on 2013.
At first glance, seven years can seem like a long wait but Saturday night after the Lady Vikings (10-0) beat Burns, 35-29, the focus for Vale wasn’t on the past but instead rested on a satisfying conclusion and a perfect league mark.
“It feels good and I am happy for these kids,” said Johnson.
The Vikings emerged from a brutal pre-season to put together 10-game win streak, defeating arch rival Burns twice. Vale suffered its last loss Jan. 7 to Baker.
“It’s nice to win the league outright,” said Johnson. Now the Vikings will enter the league district tournament – set Friday and Saturday at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande – as a No. 1 seed and will play the winner of the Riverside-Umatilla game played Tuesday. On Monday, Vale was ranked ninth by the Oregon School Activities Association while Burns was ranked seventh. The girls district championship game is slated for 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Vikings’ effort to clinch the league title wasn’t easy. The Hilanders kept the contest close until the final moments and held a 24-22 advantage at halftime.
Matyson Siddoway scored 12 points to lead Vale and Emersyn Johnson chipped in 12 to help the home team push past Burns.
Allie Hueckman paced the Hilanders (8-2) with 14 points.
“We had a hard time getting the ball into the basket,” said Burns coach Brandon McMullen.
Defense underscored the second half as both teams hammered at each other in what proved to be a war of attrition. The Vikings held a narrow 27-26 lead at the end of the third frame but began to pull away in the fourth quarter. Siddoway’s two-point jump shot with just over two minutes to play put the home team ahead 32-26 but Burns closed the gap to 34-29 with a minute remaining.
The Hilanders, though, couldn’t catch up.
While Johnson praised the Vikings defense, he said the other key to the win was teamwork.
“There are no egos on this team,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the victory was especially poignant because the Vikings had to “find our identity a little bit” after a rough pre-season.
The Vikings lost four of their first five games and entered into the regular sesason with a 2-6 overall record.
Vale, though, got a huge win on the road against Burns to open the season and then defeated Nyssa to begin the 10-game win streak. After the game, Emersyn Johnson said Vale’s winning ways was about setting the right priorities.
“We just try to focus on defense and hard work and when you focus on working hard, winning isn’t a factor,” said Johnson, a junior guard.
She said the Vikings were “pretty rough in the beginning” of the season.
“But our team did a good job of stepping into their roles and I think that is what is so special. We all have a special role,” said Johnson. As the boys varsity basketball game began, Johnson stood near the locker rooms and gazed out onto the court. A slight smile creased his lips as he thought about a question regarding the season.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said.
New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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