When Caden Long started the fourth quarter by throwing down a two-handed slam dunk, La Grande’s 10-point lead had shrunk to a single point and the roaring Baker crowd sensed a stirring comeback win on the way.
The Tigers did not.
La Grande weathered Long’s individual effort — a game-high 26 points, including 17 of Baker’s 29 in the second half — to claim the Greater Oregon League title with a 57-50 win Saturday and avenge a 53-47 loss to the Bulldogs in the Baker gym on Jan. 31.
Baker led briefly in the final period — its only lead of the second half — when Mason Van Arsdall scored inside to give the Bulldogs a 49-48 lead with 4:06 left.
But La Grande scored the next 7 points.
On the possession after Van Arsdall’s basket, La Grande’s Devin Bell was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made two of three free throws to regain the lead. The Tigers never trailed again.
Justin Jenner’s 3-point play on a rebound basket boosted La Grande’s lead to 52-48 with 2:49 left, and Jenner then made a layin with 1:08 left to put the game out of reach.
“La Grande played hard, and they hit open shots,” Baker coach Jebron Jones said.
Jenner’s putback was the last, and most devastating, example of Baker’s biggest failure Saturday, Jones said — defensive rebounding.
“They had a lot of second chance baskets, some for layins and some where they kicked out for a three,” he said. “Those are daggers.”
Although the loss means Baker will have to travel for its Class 4A playoff game March 7 rather than host a game, Jones said he was pleased with the Bulldogs’ effort Saturday night.
“The boys, they played hard the whole time,” he said. “We just dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
Jones was also impressed with Baker’s ability to rally from a 10-point deficit despite playing most of the second half without Gabe Gambleton, the junior point guard and Baker’s second-leading scorer behind Long.
Gambleton picked up his fourth foul with 6:10 left in the third quarter and he stayed on the bench into the fourth.
He returned with 6:47 left in the game, and La Grande leading 45-43, but was whistled for his fifth foul just 20 seconds later.
“Foul trouble is hard for anybody, but especially when it’s the guy who has the ball in his hands most of the time,” Jones said of Gambleton’s absence. “It was a big blow for us.”
Baker led early, scoring 9 straight points in the first quarter to go up 13-6.
La Grande responded with a 7-0 run to tie the score early in the second quarter on Lukas Schelin’s 3-point play.
After Baker led 21-18, La Grande scored the last 11 points of the first half, including 3-pointers by Bell and Cristian Mendoza, to lead 29-21 at halftime.
The Tigers matched their largest lead, 42-32, on Jenner’s driving layin late in the third quarter before Baker ended the quarter on a 9-2 run, capped by Long’s breakaway dunk with 26 seconds left and Jamisun Rigueiro’s layin, following a Baker steal, with 5.2 seconds left.
Jones said Long, a 6-foot-4 senior, showed his versatility in the second half as he took over the main ball-handling duties in Gambleton’s absence.
“He’s done a good job all year of working on all aspects of his game, and it really showed,” Jones said. “He was dead tired after the game.”
Baker had 21 field goals to La Grande’s 16, but the Tigers had a major advantage at the free throw line.
La Grande was 19 for 37, Baker 7 of 21.
LA GRANDE (57)
Myer 4 2-6 12, Jenner 3 1-1 7, DuVernay 0 0-0 0, Schelin 3 3-5 10, Wiggins 1 1-2 3, Mendoza 3 5-12 13, Bell 1 7-11 10, Hutchins 1 0-0 0. Totals 16 19-37 57.
Younger 0 0-0 0, Gambleton 2 3-3 7, Flanagan 0 0-2 0, Robb 0 0-0 0, Rigueiro 2 0-7 4, Wright 2 0-0 4, Shirtcliff 0 0-1 0, Long 11 3-5 26, Van Arsdall 2 1-2 5, Smith 2 0-1 4. Totals 21 7-21 50.
La Grande 10 19 15 13 — 57
Baker 13 8 20 9 — 50
Three-point baskets — Myer 2, Schelin, Mendoza 2, Bell, Long. Total fouls — La Grande 19, Baker 26. Technical fouls — DuVernay, Shirtcliff.