By Brad Mosher
The (La Grande) Observer
The Cove Leopards fell into a hole early they never could climb out of in the opening round of Old Oregon League’s district girls basketball tournament Thursday at Baker High School.
The Wallowa Cougars were waiting for them with an ambush that ended the season for the Lady Leopards with a 38-29 loss.
It was Wallowa sophomores Kristyn Young and Taylor Harshfield who knocked off the post-season dreams of the Leopards with by accounting for more than half their team’s points Thursday. Young had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Harshfield finished with 10 points.
It will be Wallowa that top-seeded Imbler will meet tonight in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. in the Baker High School gymnasium.
Cove’s problems started early, falling behind 10-2 in the first quarter.
They were able to rally in the second quarter, outscoring Wallowa by a 12-10 margin to cut the lead to 20-14 by halftime.
At the start of the second half Wallowa went on another run, with 10 straight points before the Leopards finally scored on Molly DelCurto’s bankshot with 3:28 left. Kelly Nostrant added a shot then Hailey Hulse cut the lead 30-20 with a pair of free throws.
Kayla Johnson’s 3-pointer with 2:05 left in the third quarter cut Wallowa’s lead to just seven — marking a 7-0 run by the Leopards to tighten the score.
Both Wallowa and Cove exchanged scores in the final minutes to leave the Cougars with a seven-point advantage (32-25) at the start of the fourth quarter.
With 4:59 left in the game, Cove’s Hannah Hulse cut the Wallowa lead to five (34-29). Those would be the final points of the game for Cove.
“We were in a hole — 16-to-2 -— at one point,” said Cove’s coach, Brandon May. “We started to dig out of it, but our defense has to support our offense. We spent a lot of energy digging out of that hole.”
Although the Leopards weren’t giving up, their cold shooting touch throughout the game didn’t help them.
In the first half, Cove hit just four of 22 two-point shots and hit one of five 3-point attempts. That’s almost normal for his team, May said. The big difference is how the defense creates the points for the offense. That was missing Thursday.
Kayla Johnson came back from an injury and hit Cove’s only 3-pointers in the game. She finished with nine points as the team’s high-scorer.
“She ran out of gas. She hasn’t played for three weeks and she hadn’t quite got her legs back yet,” May said.
We just couldn’t keep any momentum, the coach said. “We would just keep getting a foul or getting a turnover.”
The fourth quarter was ugly, he added. “They were rushing (the shots) and Wallowa seemed to have everything go down. Wallowa came in to play. You could tell that in the first quarter. They simply wanted it from the start -— more than we did.
After Young and Harshfield, Wallowa had five others score. Morgan Waters finished with five points, while Samantha Johnston had four and Sally Mary Blair scored three. Shai Allen put in two points.
Cove’s Johnson led her team with nine, while Hannah Hulse put in eight and both Hailey Hulse and Molly DelCurto had four each. Morgan Reddington and Kelly Nostrant each scored two.
The loss ended the prep basketball career of senior Renee Mills. She was held scoreless in her last game but pulled down four of her team’s 38 rebounds. Hailey Hulse led Cove with 10 rebounds, while Young grabbed 12 of Wallowa’s 38 rebounds.