September 10, 2003 11:00 pm

By Raenelle Kwock

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande boys never backed down from Ontario in their league-opening soccer game Tuesday.

The teams kept battling up and down the field and close to the net.

Several scoring opportunities went awry for the Tigers, but in the end La Grande wound up with a hard-fought 1-1 tie against the No. 6 team in the state.

The Tigers (0-1-1) got a bad break in the first half when Tiger goalie Josef Mielke mishandled the ball and it rolled back in the net.

For the remainder of the first half, Ontario kept pushing the ball up the field but the Tiger defense held. The Ontario defense kept the Tigers from scoring as well.

The game got even more fierce in the second half. The Tigers watched one would-be goal sail over the net and another kicked straight to the Ontario goalie.

In another scoring chance, La Grande and Ontario were all bunched up in front of the Ontario net but the ball would not bounce La Grande's way.

On the other side of the field, Mielke made sure nothing got in the net, making leaping saves to keep La Grande in the game.

The Tigers tied the game in the second half on Aaron Nebeker's high header off a corner kick. Nebeker's goal sailed inside the top left corner.

"We needed the point," La Grande coach Jessy Watson said.

Watson was "very pleased."

He said he was happy the Tigers played well and the defense was sound.

The Tigers will play Riverside at 10 a.m. Saturday instead of 2 p.m. Friday.