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La Grande gets another shot at Ontario

By all accounts it’s been a solid regular season for the La Grande boys basketball team. But the Tigers aren’t ready to call it a success just yet. There is still more the team is looking to accomplish.

“One of our goals was to make it to state,” Tigers head coach Mark Carollo said. 

La Grande begins the final push toward that goal Saturday with the first-round of the Greater Oregon League district tournament against Ontario. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at La Grande High School.

La Grande finished the regular season with a 17-3 record, which included a 16-game winning streak. 

“Win by win we got a nice little streak going,” Carollo said.

After 16 games, the Tigers’ “nice little streak” ended with their final league game in Ontario, a 51-47 loss, something La Grande will remember heading into Saturday’s contest.

With his team excited for the rematch, Carollo says they will come out ready to play hard. 

“It will be fun to play a team that shares a league title with us.” 

Carollo said the Tigers enter the postseason relatively healthy with the normal bumps and bruises that come at the end of a long regular season.

“We’ve been lucky enough to avoid any injuries,”
Carollo said. 

La Grande will have a full roster heading into the weekend’s contests.

La Grande’s Kali Avila (23) will try to help her team past Ontario in a Greater Oregon League playoff game Saturday. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
La Grande’s Kali Avila (23) will try to help her team past Ontario in a Greater Oregon League playoff game Saturday. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)

La Grande exceeds expectations

La Grande head coach Doug Girdner entered the season unsure of what his team was capable of. Then came a 53-44 loss at Nyssa on Jan. 14. That loss really left Girdner scratching his head.

But Girdner said it was that loss to the Bulldogs that ultimately proved to be a turning point for his team.

“We played decently before that, and we were OK with where we were,” Girdner said. “Then, they cleaned our clock.”

Following the game, however, the team turned up the intensity in practice and learned overlooking teams can prove costly.

“Now, we want to come back after a win and practice like we lost,” Girdner said.

The change in outlook helped La Grande to a 15-5 record and a third straight Greater Oregon League title. Even with the success the Tigers achieved during the regular season, there is room for improvement.

“(The team) is humble enough to know there is room for improvement,” Girdner said of his 15-5 Tigers. “If you are comfortable with winning, you will lose the big games.”

La Grande opens the GOL district tournament at home against Ontario at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Girdner said this year’s team has exceeded all expectations.

“We were a young inexperienced team,” Girdner said.  “The community seemed to expect it to be a learning year and that we would not come as far as we have.” 

La Grande has also had to deal with its fair share of turmoil during the regular season. One player moved away, another was lost due to grades and two more players were forced to sit out for the season due to injuries. 

“Life is not fair. How you handle the curveballs shows you and others who you are,” Girdner said. “Our goal each practice is to come out of it knowing you got better.” 

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