La Grande had cut an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to just three points and had a chance to draw closer, but visiting Nyssa made enough plays down the stretch to pick up a sweep of the season series.
Kierra Hernandez scored 18 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs came away with a 46-39 victory in La Grande Tuesday night.
“We’re still kind of young and trying to figure things out,” La Grande head coach Justin MacKay said. “We got lost on a few defensive assignments at the end that kind of cost us a little bit, (but) overall I felt like our kid plays really hard and gave it all the effort they had. (We’re) trying to do new things and they really put the effort out to try and play within the new system were trying to run. I thought that the girls did a good job.”
The Tigers, with the exception of a couple of brief stints, trailed throughout the night, and were down 38-30 and 42-34 in the fourth quarter before inching closer.
Ella Dunlap hit an open Kenzie Williams for a jumper to cut the margin to six with about 2:50 to play. Camryn Collman, who led La Grande with 14 points and 10 rebounds, took a pass from Lexee Gomes on a set play and got a friendly roll on a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 42-39 with 2:14 left.
The Tigers, though, drew no closer. La Grande missed on an opportunity to draw even closer its next time down, and after the teams traded turnovers, Hernandez hit two free throws to make it a five-point game with just 38.8 seconds left. La Grande missed two 3s on the next possession and the Bulldogs rounded out the scoring in the closing seconds.
Still, there was a sense of improvement from the Tigers despite the loss.
“We’ve definitely grown since last time (we played Nyssa),” Collman said. “I’m really proud of what we did.”
Part of the challenge for the Tigers Tuesday night was trying to implement phases of a new defense, which Collman said the team hadn’t had a lot of experience running.
“We were trying to work on a new trap defense, which was a bit difficult because we haven’t done it a lot yet, but I think we did decently well with it,” she said.
MacKay added the defensive tweaks are part of what the team is doing to change its identity on that side of the ball.
“We’re looking to be more aggressive defensively,” he said. “It’s something that’s new and a little bit uncomfortable to us. We’re still kind of learning some different rotations and things like that. I think that the girls did a good job of going out there and trying to execute what we asked them to do. Ultimately it cost us a few baskets, but I was really pleased with how hard the girls played.”
The other challenge for La Grande was Hernandez, who added eight rebounds for Nyssa and was a major focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense.
“She’s a senior that’s committed to play college basketball,” MacKay said. “We’ve got a freshman (Dunlap) guarding her who I felt did a good job. Defensively we got lost a few times and gave her some easy baskets, but for the most part I felt like we did a good job of frustrating her and playing physical with her.”
Dunlap finished with nine points and eight rebounds for La Grande.
The Tigers were down as much as five points in the second quarter, but closed to within 24-23 at the break on a putback by Dunlap in the final minute of the period. Gomes hit a 3-pointer with five minutes to play in the third that briefly gave La Grande a 26-25 lead. Nyssa responded with a 13-4 run to go up 38-30 on a 3-point play by Hernandez with about seven minutes to play.
Sailor Hartley added 15 points for Nyssa, which shot 17-for-46 and held a 33-31 edge on the glass.
Gomes and Williams both had five points for the Tigers, who shot 14-for-52 on the night. Dunlap added two assists and two steals, and Collman had two assists.
La Grande (8-12 overall) resumes action Saturday when it travels to McLoughlin for a Greater Oregon League bout.