HEPPNER – The Grant Union High School boys basketball team starts league play this week with a 7-2 preseason record.

 The Pros face Nyssa on the Bulldogs’ court at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 7.

 “Nyssa finished third in state last year. They will be tough,” said Prospector head coach Pete Rawlins.

 “They have played a lot of their preseason games with tough Idaho schools. We will have to set the tone with some tough defensive play from the start,” he said.

 Adding to Grant Union’s preseason were two big games at the Heppner Christmas Tournament – a 54-50 win over 1A Dufur, and a 42-46 loss to 2A Heppner in the championship game.

 With Dufur, the Pros fought hard the entire time, said Rawlins.

 It was a close battle with the Rangers, who had four returning starters who are  good 3-point shooters. “Dufur plays smart basketball,” he said.

 The Pros ran into early foul trouble and had to change rotations, said Rawlins.

 “Ross Rawlins shot the ball well, including 13 points in the third quarter that kept us right there,” the coach said. “We hit some free throws in the fourth, and had some great rebounding from Brent Labhart and Ian Averett, and came away with the win. We played pretty hard, but we need to get our big guys scoring at the rim much more.”

 Leading scorer was Ross Rawlins with 23. Reed Rawlins and Labhart each had 7; Averett, 6; Nick Wilson and Trevor Gill, each 4; Austin Bremner, 2; and Cody Wright, 1.

 In the tournament’s Dec. 29 championship game, the Pros faced a tough Heppner Mustang team that had just defeated 4A McLoughlin “Mac-Hi” High School, 49-36, the day before.

 “Heppner played a packed-in zone that made it tough to get the ball inside to our big guys,” said Rawlins. “We had a lot of turnovers throughout the game, and had two players get into early foul trouble. Heppner’s leading scorer shot 90 percent from the foul line,” he said.

 “We started this game having trouble scoring the ball and turned the ball over early. Unfortunately, we also had trouble shooting the ball from the perimeter, where we did have opportunities. Our boys are very competitive, and really played hard, despite having a tough time making things work,” Rawlins said.

 “Labhart had a bigtime ‘and one’ dunk play late in the fourth that brought us within 1 point. We had a chance at the end for a 3-pointer that  would have tied the game, but they fouled us and we converted on one freethrow and had to foul,” Rawlins said. The game ended with Heppner 46, Grant Union 42.

 “I was disappointed in our execution and turnovers. I had really thought we could get out of there with the win. But I was very proud of the boys’ competitiveness. They showed that when things aren’t working well, they keep battling.”

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