WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Christian Siltanen stood relaxed inside the La Grande locker room Saturday night, beaming but exhausted after a 47-39 La Grande victory over Baker High School in the Greater Oregon League Tournament championship game.
"That was a seriously physical game," said Siltanen, who scored 10 points. "I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but it feels good right now. It was roaring out there tonight."
It was La Grande's second straight GOL championship and, according to Baker head coach Craig Woods, may be a precursor for the Tigers performing on an even bigger stage.
"In the past you could bang La Grande's bodies and they would fold, but that's not the case now, they're tough," Woods said. "We've seen a lot of competition this year and I think they're one of the best teams in the state. They should make it to Gill (Coliseum)."
Gill Coliseum, in Corvallis, is the site of the OSAA/U.S. Bank / Les Schwab Tires 3A State Championships.
Against Baker, the Tigers led 13-4 after the first quarter, holding the Bulldogs to just two field goals in the opening stanza.
In the second quarter, back-to-back Kevin Bomberger buckets pushed the La Grande lead to 19-4 and Baker went into halftime trailing 25-13.
"We didn't rebound very good tonight," Baker's Brett Smith said. "I thought we came out a little timid and didn't get after it like we should have, so give La Grande credit.
"That was how all GOL championships should be. I was trying to talk to somebody out there and couldn't even hear myself it was so loud."
Smith led Baker in scoring with eight points.
In the third quarter, Baker outscored La Grande 8-4 to cut the lead to 29-21, but had trouble converting shots in the paint thanks to 6-foot-6 Tiger junior center Ben Pettit's defensive effort.
Pettit blocked five shots in the contest, all in the second half, to go with nine points and nine rebounds.
"Sometimes we may not score that much, but our defense is good enough in those situations that we can still win games," La Grande head coach Aaron Mills said. "Although tonight I felt like there were stretches where we were trying to eat the clock and playing not to lose and we can't do that.
"If you smell blood in the water you have to go after it."
The game was not without some drama, most of which came at the very end of the contest.
Trailing 37-25 with three minutes to play, Baker stormed back to within two points at 40-38 with 30 seconds left thanks to back-to-back buckets by Cliff DeMastus, followed by a Matt Bunch 3-pointer.
After free throws by Rick Anderson and Bomberger made the score 43-38, Bunch was fouled by Trent Evins while shooting a 3-pointer but converted only one of three free throws.
A subsequent technical foul on Woods sent La Grande back to the free-throw line, securing the game, and the championship.
In the game, La Grande shot 33 free throws to Baker's nine. Baker did not shoot its first free throw until the five minute mark of the fourth quarter.
"It seemed like we did everything we could to lose the game in the second half offensively, but still played great defense," said Anderson, who scored eight points, and had three assists and three steals. "I thought tonight that Trent (Evins), Chris (Lowry) and Troy (Stebbins) all did a great job. They're making this a fun season. Something to remember."
La Grande's season continues Friday night with a state playoff home game, hosting the winner of Tuesday's Gladstone-Seaside matchup.
Baker hosts Banks on Tuesday in other state playoff action.
"Make sure you get here early," Mills said, "and get ready for an exciting game. It should be crazy."
Demastus 2 0-1 4, K. Johnson 1 0-0 3, Bunch 2 2-5 7, Mullins 1 0-0 2, Smith 4 0-3 8, Taylor 1 0-0 2, G. Johnson 3 0-0 6, Baxter 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 2-9 39.
LA GRANDE (47)
Pettit 2 5-8 9, Siltanen 3 4-5 10, Anderson 2 4-8 8, Lowry 3 0-0 6, Bomberger 3 4-8 10, Evins 0 2-2 2, Stebbins 0 0-0 0, Townsend 0 2-2 2. Totals 13 21-33 47.
Baker 4 9 8 18 39
La Grande 13 12 4 18 47
3-point goals: K. Johnson, Bunch. Total fouls: Baker 18, La Grande 11.