LA GRANDE — The La Grande Tigers and Baker Bulldogs appeared destined for a tight contest in their Greater Oregon League opener at Community Stadium.
But one goal by the Tigers shortly after halftime swung the momentum and suddenly opened the floodgates.
James Thurman recorded a hat trick — with the first of those goals deflecting off a Baker defender and in — and La Grande scored five unanswered goals in the second half for a 5-0 win over the Bulldogs Saturday.
“We tried something in the first half to experiment, changing formations,” La Grande head coach Sid Rangel said. “That didn’t work, so we stuck with our original plan. We went back to that and started connecting passes, and things started working for us.”
La Grande had an edge in possession and scoring opportunities in the first half, but was unable to break through. Baker goalkeeper Silas Carter played a role in that, registering five saves in the first 40 minutes, including a couple of impressive plays made on attempts by Callum Ebel and Westin Blake. The Bulldogs even seemed to have the momentum early in the second half as they set the tone in the first five minutes.
But in the 46th minute, Thurman’s attempt that he said appeared to be headed wide glanced off a Baker defender and trickled home to break the stalemate and set off a snowball effect.
“I shot it, the opponent got a foot on it as I shot it. It was going wide, their player was running back and hit the ball in the net,” Thurman said.
Thurman fed a beautiful pass to Ebel for a goal seven minutes later for a 2-0 margin, then scored his second goal in the 60th minute immediately after La Grande seemed to catch a break. A corner kick by La Grande appeared to be sent out of bounds on a header by the Tigers, but they were granted another corner kick. Thurman took advantage, scoring on the next corner for a three-goal lead.
“It’s hard to say this, but a lot of times the refs play a part,” Baker head coach Victor Benites said. “On the corner kick they put it out, and then he gives it back and they scored on that.”
Thurman said the key for La Grande was settling down after halftime.
“The first half (was) super frantic, we were trying to be too quick,” Thurman said. “We were going 100% the entire time, which can be a detriment, surprisingly. The second half we calmed down, played some passes and once we got the first goal, the floodgates open.”
Adam Remily and Thurman added late goals for the final margin and the blowout win.
“In our formation that we have as our base, that formation is crucial for us in our success, and we executed pretty well. It’s meant to score goals,” Rangel said.
The Tigers controlled possession and shots, putting 14 shots on goal on the afternoon. La Grande goalkeeper Jacob Huntsman stopped all five shots that came at him.
Carter finished with nine saves for Baker in the loss.
Baker (2-1-1 overall, 0-1 GOL) hosts Pendleton in a nonleague contest today.