by: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn's Orlando Hernandez has been a key player during the Bulldogs recent stretch of five wins in six games. Hernandez scored seven points against South Albany Friday night, helping Woodburn open their Mid-Willamette schedule with two wins for the first time in three years.The Woodburn boys basketball team kept its hot streak alive through the first two games of league play last week, winning back-to-back games against Mid-Willamette rivals Corvallis and South Albany.

The Bulldogs opened their league schedule on Jan. 14 with a 41-34 win against the Spartans at Corvallis High School and followed with a 51-46 home victory over the South Albany Rebels Friday night.

The wins gave the Bulldogs their first three-game streak of the year. The team has now won five of six since suffering a 30-point loss at Bend in December.

Against South Albany, the Bulldogs used a team effort to build a big first half lead and cruise to a five-point victory. Despite the close margin of victory, Woodburn controlled the game throughout the contest.

The Bulldogs raced out to an 8-0 lead before the Rebels scored their first point and held a 17-4 advantage after the first quarter. The two teams traded shots in the second quarter, but Woodburn still maintained a comfortable 34-18 cushion heading into halftime.

After the high-scoring first half for the Bulldogs, the team was held to just 17 points in the final two quarters as South Albany attempted to pull off a big rally. South Albany scored 20 points in the final period, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome Woodburn’s sizable lead.

Five Woodburn players scored six or more points in the victory, led by 12 from junior Damian Espinoza. Luis Salazar added 10 points, while Rey Ruiz and Orlando Hernandez each scored seven. Daniel Vasquez scored six in the victory.

“(Luis) came up big in the second quarter and iced the game down the stretch hitting two free throws,” said coach Enrique Sandoval, who was pleased with the number of players on the team who have been contributing to the team’s great play recently. “It’s just a mixture of guys coming in and stepping in when we need them.”

Three days earlier, the Bulldogs kicked off their league schedule with a seven-point victory over Corvallis, ending a five-game skid against the Spartans dating back to the 2010-11 season. That was also the last year that Woodburn started their league schedule with two wins, as that year’s team advanced to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Woodburn snapped their streak against Corvallis thanks to Ruiz, who scored 24 of the team’s 41 points. Leo Garza added six, while Hernandez scored five. After the game, Sandoval praised his team’s starting backcourt of Ruiz and Hernandez.

“Rey really did a great job of helping us out,” said Sandoval. “Orlando Hernandez played almost the whole game, and he did well for us. They both did a great job of really stepping up.”

After the Bulldogs entered halftime down 20-19, the team began to pull away in the second half thanks in part to their defense, which limited the Spartans to just five points in the third quarter.

Woodburn’s defense has been instrumental in the team’s recent hot streak. The Bulldogs have held opponents to 41 points per game in their last six contests, going 5-1 in that span. Conversely, the team opened the season with six straight losses by giving up an average of 63 points per game.

“We have been focusing on the defensive end. That’s the one area we can control,” said Sandoval. “We’ve been doing a really good job of defending. The kids are starting to grasp what we want to do defensively, and they’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

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