VALE — In late December, the Vale girls basketball team looked lost.
The Vikings closed out 2018 with a win over Marsing, who finished their season at 8-15 in Idaho 2A, but that was on the heels of a five-game losing streak that included two tough losses to Weiser and Fruitland.
But that was in 2018. In 2019, the Vikings are a new team.
Since the new year, the Vikings are on an 11-3 run and, after beating Nyssa 44-27 on Wednesday night, are one game away from an Eastern Oregon League championship.
The Vikings (14-9) were able to come out swinging Wednesday night, jumping ahead to an 8-0 lead and keeping the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for over three minutes. The Vikings were able to ride out their run to a 29-12 lead at halftime, allowing the Bulldogs to make just four of 14 shots.
The Bulldogs were able to control the game more in the second half, but the Vikings didn’t let off the gas.
The Vikings will travel to Burns on Friday night for the EOL Championship game.
Vale was led by Matyson Siddoway, who scored 13 points (nine in the second half). Gracee Jacobs and Emmy Johnson each scored seven points.
Jacobs said the Vikings’ biggest key in the second half of the season has been a drive to go to the state tournament in Coos Bay. The Vikings haven’t made the long bus ride to the state tournament in four years.
“It’s our passion, definitely,” Jacobs said. “We want to go to state. We talk about that daily. Right now we eat, sleep and live 3A Coos Bay.”
Vale coach Jason Johnson attributed a lot of the Vikings’ turnaround in the second half of the season to the younger players stepping up. The Vikings have just three seniors and have several sophomores playing considerable minutes.
“When you look at our team, the only kid with significant varsity minutes is [Jacobs],” Johnson said.
Siddoway, who is one of the many young Vikings seeing more playing time this year, said the key for the Vikings has been everyone settling into their role on the team.
“We really incorporate all of the players and everyone makes sure they know what role on offense they are playing,” Siddoway said. “Whether it’s setting a screen or boxing out everyone’s got a place.”
“We’ve got to slow down Allie Hueckman, for one,” Johnson said. “And we need to figure out how to get up and down the floor in transition. We’re always our best when we’re getting transition baskets.”
The Vikings have lost twice to the Hilanders, the OSAA’s No. 1-ranked team, this year: by 11 points at Burns and by four points in Vale. Jacobs said she’s confident in the Vikings’ ability going into round three in Burns Friday night.
“I’m amped,” Jacobs said. “I knew all day that with the energy we’ve had that we were going to come out with a win and play hard today. We just have to be ready for Friday.”
Siddoway said confidence will be a big factor going into Friday’s game for the Vikings.
“We’re excited,” she said. “Our confidence is really high becuase we know how high-level of a team we are right now. We’re all ready to go and play them.
Just one day after closing the regular season at Riverside (the game was postponed twice due to winter weather) the Nyssa (12-12) girls were unable to keep pace with the Vikings in the first half, which led to 14 Nyssa fouls.
“[Vale] did a good job of attacking us,” Nyssa coach Jeremy Chamberlain said. “And we did a lot of reaching.”
The Bulldogs’ top scorer was Madisyn Hartley, who scored seven points.
Chamberlain said he was happy with the way the Bulldogs continued to fight in the second half despite trailing big at halftime. He said the Bulldogs have been getting better down the stretch.
“Our kids have improved a lot,” Chamberlain said. “And I feel that over the last three weeks we’ve been playing a lot of good basketball.”
While the Bulldogs are out of contention in the EOL, it’s unlikely that their season is over. On Wednesday, the OSAA had Nyssa ranked No. 13 in 3A, Vale was No. 9, and the OSAA has four at-large bids that will go to the four highest-ranked teams that haven’t already qualified for a state tournament game.
The rankings will freeze on Saturday night.
“We feel like we’re in a pretty good spot,” Chamberlain said. “We’ll start preparing for next weekend.”