>But Bulldogs still aiming for playoffs

   Sports Editor
   Losing Saturday at Pilot Rock proved subtlely more satisfying for Culver High boys basketball Coach Mark Sheets than a defeat suffered at the hands of Stanfield just 20 hours earlier.
   Though losing 61-51 compared to just 71-68, Culver stepped up its level of competition Saturday, according to Sheets.
   "The kids played hard. Pilot Rock hit a lot of shots (especially three-point field goals) otherwise we would have been right there," said Sheets.
   Thanks to Jeff Cloud and Dustin Herman, who had 17 points each, Culver kept up with Pilot Rock for much of the game.
   Junior Troy Sampson proved so hot from three-point range that Sheets said he was downing shots from "NBA three distance."
   Despite slipping to 3-7 in the Columbia Basin Conference it is part of, Culver remained in the playoff picture that will include five teams from the conference.
   "I believe three wins in our next four games are needed to reach the district tournament," said Sheets.
   He expressed optimism the Bulldogs could collect the wins needed. While Brennan Whitaker was at first feared out for the season when he went down with an injured knee two weeks ago, the senior might be on the verge of returning, noted Sheets.
   Missed free throws and poorer than average shooting sank Culver in its Friday home lose to Stanfield as it rallied its way back into contention and even a lead after trailing 7-0 and having spent two time outs less than four minutes into the game. By the end of the first quarter, Culver had recovered to play evenly in keeping the difference, at 17-10, headed into the second quarter.
   Nate Lewis was on his way to 24 points for the Bulldogs against Stanfield but 19 points by Cloud and seven more from Chris Dix kept Stanfield from keying on Lewis.
   Pressure by Culver combined with Stanfield slips sent the visitors' advantage sinking to 23-21 with a couple minutes still left in the half.
   While an inbound pass converted into a short basket by Lewis gave Culver its first lead of the game, at 26-25, with 1:15 showing on the clock, Stanfield reclaimed the lead behind Alonso Rivera's last-second three-point field goal.
   Jessie Veliz led Stanfield with 17 points Friday. Some of those points helped the visitors regain control -- as they took a 45-34 lead -- in the middle of the third quarter.
   Some missed shots and missed free throws in that span helped Stanfield pull away from a 30-32 margin created by Dix' baby hook from the left side of the basket early in the quarter for Culver. There were key baskets by varied Stanfield players including J.T. Haines, Chuy Perches and Jacob Flemmer, who had 13 points. The Bulldogs bounced back.
   Behind a series of rebounds, steals and inside plays that netted Cloud two baskets, Culver climbed back to within a point, with a 10-0 run, as the third-quarter ended.
   A steal and drive by Herman with 4:15 left in the game pulled Culver back into a 59-59 tie. That however, was the final tie of the game.
   Drawing fouls and cashing in on an open look given to Veliz, Stanfield scored the games' next five points to go ahead for good.
   Stanfield nipped Umatilla at the same time Culver was falling at Pilot Rock to pull into fourth place, at 6-4.
   Culver remained within a game of fifth-place Sherman County headed into a weekend featuring a Friday, Feb. 8, trip to Wahtonka before a Saturday home game with Weston-McEwen.
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