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Culver boys just miss basketball win

Loss to Weston-McEwen doesn't kill playoff hopes

   Culver High's varsity boys basketball team proved itself a more tenacious, and perhaps even talented, team than the visiting Weston-McEwen squad on Saturday at Culver.
   Unfortunately for Culver there was one department in which Weston-McEwen was more blessed. A size advantage accentuated by 6-foot, 6-inch senior Tyler Jorgensen and 6-5 junior Zach Johnson made Weston-McEwen's Tiger-Scots slightly more tall than the Bulldogs could negate with their scrappiness.
   "We just ran out of steam in the end," Culver Coach Mark Sheets said of the 66-60 win Weston-McEwen held on for.
   While keeping itself in the Columbia Basin Conference's playoff picture, Weston-McEwen sent Culver to the edge of elimination just one day after the Bulldogs had stayed in the playoff picture by winning Friday at Wahtonka.
   Winning on the road was step one of a three-wins in four games sequence which Sheets said Culver's Bulldogs needed to complete to make the Columbia Basin Conference playoffs.
   By beating Wahtonka, 52-46, Culver stood 4-7 and was challenging for a spot among the league's top five. There will be a playoff to determine the second seed from the CBC in the Oregon 2A state championship tourney. Culver could have claimed a spot in the district playoffs by continuing to win, but losing to a taller Weston-McEwen squad left it needing to win.
   If Culver beat Sherman County, it could still manage to qualify for a playoff spot with a win at Umatilla. Coach Sheets said just finishing 6-8 would be an accomplishment.
   Playoffs on Feb. 22 and 23 in Pendleton will determine who moves along to the state playoffs the following week.
   Before thinking about such possibilities Culver will have needed to recover from its somber Saturday.
   Missing chances to score after it had stopped Weston-McEwen on a couple of early sequences started wearing on Culver as it was outscored 6-3 after a free throw by Culver's Dustin Herman cut Weston-McEwen's early lead to 4-1. The 10-4 lead grew as large as 31-17. A little run by the Bulldogs to end the half left them within nine but saddled with a personal foul problem in that senior post player Herman had three.
   Using an extended press, as Coach Sheets dubbed it, let Culver climb back into contention. Weston-McEwen hurried shots it didn't have to as Culver kept creeping closer with free throws and layups resulting from steals that its high pressure guarding incited. While a couple of inside moves let Weston-McEwen rebuild part of its lead that had shrunk to 34-29, the Bulldogs nipped away again to cut a 38-29 margin to 38-35 when Nate Lewis made a baseline drive good for a layup.
   Brennan Whitaker came back from an injured knee suffered just 10 days earlier to take on Weston-McEwen and made one of the plays that had Culver threatening to make its biggest comeback of the season. Drawing a foul and making both free throws, Whitaker drew Culver to within 39-40 late in the third quarter before another short run by the TigerScots left the Bulldogs behind by five to start the final period.
   Culver was forced to pressure its way back into contention after another good spurt by Weston-McEwen to start the fourth quarter. But baskets including a three-point variety by Whitaker that brought Culver to within two, at 53-55, left the outcome in doubt. Chris Dix had preceded Whitaker's bomb with a long-distance success of his own before pulling the Bulldogs back to within 55-57 after Weston-McEwen made a layup he answered. The two-point margin kept being as close as Culver came.
   "I told the kids they had the green light if they got open on a three in the last minute, but they saw some shots that seemed better. They just slipped away," Coach Sheets noted.
   He called losing close games, such as Culver has done of late, "part of maturing."
   Without a lot of experience on the court, he is hoping the Bulldogs can put everything together in the last week of the season to build a good foundation for coming seasons.