MOSES LAKE — Koby Huerta stood in front of his locker after the game, and thought about it for a moment.
“There’s no pressure, all we got to do is win,” the 5-foot-10 guard who had a team-high 30 points and six assists said.
Just win, baby, is the mindset if the Runnin’ Vikes (14-6, 4-5 NWAC East) want to be in the NWAC Tournament discussion. They need to win six of the next eight games, probably seven to be sure. Wednesday night’s 88-80 victory over East Region cellar dwelling Columbia Basin College was the first step, one down, seven to go.
Huerta finished with 30 points and the Runnin’ Vikes held off the Hawks (4-17, 1-8) with free throws down the stretch. Big Bend pushed out to a 14-point lead with 6:30 remaining. But the Hawks did not go down quietly, putting together an 11-2 run to close to 78-76 with 1:49 left.
“We know each game we play is important and we’re just taking it one moment at a time,” said sophomore Mauricio Smith said. “We got a little complacent tonight and underestimated them and they starting making their shots. That won’t happen again.”
Columbia Basin freshman Denzel Brantley drove the lane and connected with a runner off the glass to make it 81-78 with a little over a minute remaining. But Huerta, who is ranked fourth in the NWAC in scoring, drove hard to the basket on the ensuing possession. The basket and free throw was enough get Big Bend over the top.
“We’re happy with all wins right now, no matter how we get them,” Huerta said. “We lost a bunch of our depth, so me and Serph (Decker) have to lead the pack in scoring and be leaders out there. We not only score points, but have to set up others to score points too.”
Big Bend is still without Joey Andrews, the team’s second-leading scorer. He went out with a Grade 2 ankle sprain (Jan. 19). The 6-foot-5 sophomore from Riverton, Utah, is out of the boot, but his return is still questionable. In his absence, the Runnin’ Vikes had a well-rounded scoring effort.
The Big Bend big guy Miles Brown got in the Hawks’ head a little bit with consecutive blocks on the same Columbia Basin possession, finishing with five blocks on the night. Brown had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds to go with his five blocks.
Huerta was 5 of 11 from 3-point range and 11 of 19 from the floor for 30 points and six assists. Decker had 15 points and seven rebounds and former Almira/Coulee-Hartline standout Payton Nielsen finished with 11 points and six rebounds, five on the defensive glass.
“It’s not just Koby and me, we need to get everybody involved. As long as we get the job done and get the win, that’s all that matters,” Decker said. “We’ve had guys step up. Payton’s been great working in the starting lineup. We see what we can do in practice and even though we don’t have the same lineup we started the season with, we have complete trust in everybody.”
Sergio Pineda of Wahluke finished with eight and Fernando Huerta from Othello had 4 for the Hawks.
Right now, Big Bend (14-6, 4-5 NWAC East) is on the outside looking in, sitting in No. 5 with North Idaho (19-2, 8-0), Spokane (16-6, 7-2), Walla Walla (12-9, 6-2) and Treasure Valley (8-11, 6-3) secure in the playoff spots for the time being.
They host Spokane on Saturday at 4 p.m., then travel to Coeur d’Alene to play North Idaho College. The next two games will set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Columbia Basin 36 44 - 80
Big Bend 46 42 - 88
Columbia Basin - Chris Cheatman 2, Denzel Brantley 33, Sergio Pineda 8, Gabe Vorheis 4, Kaden Hassett 11, Adrian Zaragoza 9, Ryan Wolf 5, Fernando Huerta 4, Gustavo Contreras 4. Totals 43-106 5-6 80
Big Bend - Mauricio Smith 4, Koby Huerta 30, Seraphin Decker 15, Payton Nielsen 11, Miles Brown 16, Ben Kuiper 12. Totals 43-93 13-14 88