By Mike Weber

For The Baker City Herald

FOREST GROVE — Following Thursday’s quarterfinal loss to Marshfield, the Baker Bulldogs had to refocus on getting a win in Friday’s consolation bracket of the Class 4A girls basketball state tournament.

But a valiant Bulldog comeback fell a little short in a 52-44 loss to North Marion at Pacific University.

Baker, which won the Greater Oregon League title and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2006, finished the season with a 17-6 record.

“I feel so proud of everyone on our team for helping us reach the tournament,” Baker Coach Mat Sand said. “We were hoping to win, but winning isn’t everything. It was a struggle at times, but we played better than we did on Thursday and that’s part of the process when you get to this type of stage with these girls who are continuing to learn. We’re a young team so it’s going to be exciting to see us prepare for the future.”

It was a seesaw first quarter that included four lead changes. Baker also had to play most of the quarter without GOL Player of the Year Gracie Huggins, who twisted her right ankle and limped off the court with five minutes, 27 seconds left on the clock.

Baker led for the final time in the contest at 8-7 following a steal and breakaway layup by junior forward Kaeli Flanagan. With Baker trailing 10-8, Baker sophomore Jayme Ramos sank a free throw line jumper, knotting the score at 10 with 2:30 left in the quarter. Flanagan later suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was unable to play for the remainder of the game.

Following a 9-0 Huskies run, Baker freshman guard Sydney Younger sank a 10-foot baseline jumper, as the Bulldogs trailed 19-12 at the end of the quarter.

Baker, the highest scoring team in Class 4A (59 points per game average), developed a good offensive rhythm in the second quarter to narrow the gap. Huggins returned to the game after getting treatment for her ankle and her jumper from the free throw line capped a 10-5 Bulldog rally that trimmed the margin to 24-22 with 1:53 on the clock. The Huskies remained on top at halftime, 28-25.

A more experienced Huskies squad (four seniors, one freshman) utilized its height advantage to gain the momentum in the third quarter. The Huskies have five players 5-foot-9 or taller, while Baker has nobody taller than 5-foot-8. North Marion grabbed rebounds and scored often in the post area to surge in front with its largest lead of the game at 41-28 with 3:03 left in the third.

But Baker junior Emily Carter then fired in back-to-back three-pointers from the same corner as Baker pulled to within 41-34 after three quarters.

The Bulldogs definitely were hoping to extend their season for one more day and they nearly did that with a spirited fourth quarter rally. A 6-2 Bulldog run, capped two free throws by senior Cecylee Bruce, made it 43-40 with 2:02 remaining in the game. The Huskies responded with a 5-0 run, though, extending the margin to 48-40.

Junior guard Desiree Davis and Younger then hit jumpers, trimming North Marion’s lead to 48-44 with 19.3 second left.

The Bulldogs then quickly fouled the Huskies to stop the clock with 17.7 seconds left. The Huskies capitalized by converting two from the line for a 50-44 advantage. On their next possession, the Bulldogs were unable to convert a scoring opportunity after a missed shot was rebounded by North Marion. Following another Baker foul, North Marion’s Ally Umbenhower went to the line and sank two free throws for the final margin.

North Marion, from Aurora, advanced to Saturday’s consolation final and lost 41-33 to No. 1 ranked Cascade (22-1).

For Bruce and Huggins, Friday’s contest marked the final game of their Baker High School careers. Despite losing in their final game, they’ll both have fond memories that they can look back on with happiness knowing that they helped lead Baker to a prestigious appearance in the Elite Eight of Class 4A basketball.

“It was a really good season and I’m really happy that I was able to conclude my senior year with the experience of playing in the state tournament,” Huggins said. “We had high expectations at the beginning of the year. I think for the most part, we met those expectations too. Our focus all year was to make it to the tournament and just have fun all season. I also wanted to help with development of our team. This team could be very good for the next few years and I’m just so happy that I could be a part of it this year.”

“We fought back really well and I actually thought that we might have been able to pull out a win,” Bruce said. “We just needed to play a little more pressure defense and try not to let those big girls push us around. Although this wasn’t really the outcome we wanted, overall I felt like this was a very good experience. We definitely felt like we could’ve beaten both Marshfield and North Marion.”

“We really had a great season and we definitely played a lot better against North Marion than we did on Thursday (against Marshfield),” said Carter, who won the Moda Health Player of the Game Award for Baker.

“I hate to lose our seniors, but that’s part of the process of high school sports,” Sand said. “They both made some great contributions to our basketball program in their four years on the team. It was fun to watch them grow and develop into good basketball players. We’re like a work in progress though and I love seeing what the future holds for us and where this team is headed in the next few years.”

The season-ending loss capped a remarkable year for Baker, which won its most games since 2007, when the team finished 20-4. This year marked Baker’s first state tournament appearance since 2006, when the Bulldogs reached the Class 3A tournament.

“Things didn’t turn out exactly the way we wanted,” Sand said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes, but I couldn’t be any happier and I couldn’t be more proud of our team. Having a tremendous amount of support from everyone in Baker City was fantastic to see as well.”

With all that they accomplished this year and considering that the team loses just two seniors, the future definitely looks bright for Baker. With a key nucleus of five talented players (Ramos, Davis, Carter, Flanagan, Younger) returning, Baker should have a very good chance to reach the tournament again next year.

Ramos and Flanagan were rewarded for their outstanding effort during the regular season as both earned GOL first team all-star awards. Younger earned recognition too as she was selected for a GOL second team all-star award. Baker also earned the sportsmanship award at the 4A tournament.


Umbenhower 13, Verastegul 9, Scanlan 15, Kinniburgh 13, Wing 2

BAKER (44) -

Huggins 7, Davis 4, Ramos 4, Carter 9, Flanagan 6, Bruce 7, Younger 7.

North Marion 19 9 13 11 — 52

Baker 12 13 9 10 — 44