By Jayson Jacoby
Caden Long contorted himself through the thicket of flailing arms that was the Nyssa defense, and gently banked the ball off the backboard and through the net.
Finally, in the game’s waning minutes, Baker had a semblance of control with a 34-28 lead it would never relinquish.
The Bulldogs went on to win 39-30 Tuesday night in the Baker gym and even their season record at 1-1.
But coach Jebron Jones disputed the notion that Long’s driving layin — or any of Baker’s other baskets — constituted a decisive moment.
“We never took control of the game,” Jones said. “All these games you learn something. I hope the guys learned tonight how we don’t want to play.”
Nyssa relied on its quick-handed defenders — senior guards Pedro Chavez and Armando Pedraza being among the more effective — to harass Baker’s ballhandlers and shooters throughout the game.
After scoring 63 points in a loss to Class 5A Pendleton in their season-opener last week, the Bulldogs managed just 39 points against Class 3A Nyssa.
“They played aggressive, and we just had to overcome that and be strong with the ball,” said Long, a senior who led Baker with 14 points.
The difference during the fourth quarter, when Baker scored seven straight points to take its largest lead at 39-28, was that the Bulldogs kept passing the ball until they found a gap in the Nyssa defense, Long said.
“Playing less selfish basketball,” said Long, who scored 8 of Baker’s 11 points in the final period. “More passing and getting the best shot possible.”
Jones said he was disappointed with Baker’s reaction to Nyssa’s in-your-face defense.
“They frustrated us with their aggressive defense,” he said. “We didn’t handle it well at all. I’ve got to do a better job coaching these guys.”
Baker led 28-24 entering the fourth quarter. After Nyssa’s Brandon Vela had a rebound basket cut Baker’s lead to 28-26, Mason Van Arsdall also scored on a putback, followed by Long’s 12-foot jumper.
Vela’s layin cut Baker’s lead to 32-28 with 6:12 left, but Nyssa wouldn’t score again until Chavez’s meaningless basket with 15 seconds left.
Baker scored the next seven points — six by Long.
Jones said that although he’s pleased that Baker held Nyssa to 30 points — including just 11 in the second half — the paltry total had much to do with Nyssa missing shots.
“We gave them too many good looks,” Jones said.
Baker did deny Nyssa much in the way of second chances, though, with strong defensive rebounding.
“If there’s a positive thing to take from this game, it was rebounding,” Jones said.
Long said rebounding was an emphasis during practice earlier this week.
“We know if we rebound we can play with anybody,” he said.
Baker appeared to be taking command when Riley Flanagan’s steal and layin gave the Bulldogs a 16-8 lead early in the second quarter.
But Nyssa then scored 9 straight points to take a 17-16 lead. Baker regained a 20-19 lead at halftime.
Jamisun Rigueiro’s reverse layin at the third-quarter buzzer gave Baker a 28-24 lead.
The Bulldogs travel to Junction City for a tournament Thursday through Saturday.
Pascacio 1 0-0 2, Gomeza 3 0-2 7, Pedraza 0 0-0 0, Chavez 3 0-2 6, Barba 4 0-0 11, Marquez 0 0-0 0, Vela 2 0-0 4. Totals 13 0-4 30.
Gambleton 1 0-2 2, Flanagan 3 0-0 6, Robb 0 0-0 0, Rigueiro 3 0-0 7, Wright 0 2-4 2, Long 6 2-2 14, Van Arsdall 3 2-2 8. Totals 16 6-10 39.
Nyssa 8 11 5 6 — 30
Baker 12 8 8 11 — 39
Three-point baskets — Rigueiro, Barba 3, Gomeza. Total fouls — Nyssa 14, Baker 10.