Baker vs. La Grande: Clash of the GOL's last two undefeated teams
By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
When Baker takes the floor at La Grande Friday, the Bulldogs plan to let their actions speak louder than any words.
Baker enters the Greater Oregon League boys basketball showdown with a 4-0 league record, La Grande a 3-0 mark.
That successful early start puts the Bulldogs within reach of the six wins they think they'll need for a playoff berth.
What Baker hasn't had during the early season is the respect of the "experts" who have singled out La Grande as the favorite to take the GOL title. In fact most predictions have La Grande defeating Baker handily Friday. Most predictions that is except those in the Bulldog camp.
"Them thinking they're going to kill us gives us more incentive," said Baker senior Brett Smith, who is averaging 18.5 points in GOL play.
"These guys are talking about the lack of respect we've gotten," Baker coach Craig Woods says of his team. "We're showing we deserve it. Our play shows we've earned that respect."
Senior Matt Bunch joins Smith in double figures in the GOL, averaging 15 points a game. Grant Johnson is averaging seven points, Cliff DeMastus 6.5 and Matt Mullins 6.3.
"These kids are focused. They really want this one," Woods said. "These guys play pretty well on the road. I think they kind of feed off it (the opposing crowd), especially being considered the underdogs."
La Grande returns three starters from last year's GOL co-champions senior Rick Anderson and juniors Kevin Bomberger and 6-foot-6 Ben Pettit. The Tigers also return six other players who saw varsity action a year ago.
"La Grande is big, and they are picked to win the league," Woods said.
"Anderson and Pettit are back, and they have several role players in Bomberger, Chris Lowry and Christian Siltanen.
"They match up with us size-wise. They play man-to-man defense and full-court press."
Woods acknowledges that the Tigers' strength is big man Pettit inside.
"He brings confidence to the floor," the Baker coach said. "They don't play as well when he isn't in the game, or without Anderson."
Woods said the Bulldogs haven't made any major changes in their game plan for the Tigers.
"We've just made a couple minor adjustments to our offense. We want to try to pull Pettit away from the basket.
"When they have the ball, you know Pettit is going to get his 16 points a game," Woods said. "We just have to try to keep everybody else down."
Comparing the teams
Baker and La Grande have played three common GOL opponents Mac-Hi, Burns and Ontario. Baker topped Burns by 30 points, La Grande 31; Baker over Mac-Hi by 19, La Grande 33; and Baker over Ontario by eight, La Grande by five.
The biggest difference in those results is that Baker defeated Ontario at home, a place where Ontario hadn't lost in at least a year. Baker built leads in double digits throughout most of that game. La Grande, on the other hand, played Ontario in La Grande and trailed at halftime. La Grande had to rally in the final period to pull out the win.
Baker and La Grande also have played three common non-league opponents, both finishing 2-1. Baker easily defeated Scappoose and Myrtle Point and lost to Tillamook. La Grande also defeated Myrtle Point and Scappoose (needing overtime against the Indians), and lost to Tillamook.
Woods said Friday's game should come down to who does what they are supposed to do.
"We have to take care of business," Woods said. "It's going to be knockdown dragout."
Baker will continue GOL action Saturday when the Bulldogs host Burns.