Cross one more to-do item off the list for the La Grande boys basketball team. The Tigers overcame 18 turnovers and a sluggish first half Saturday to roll past Ontario, 69-53, to win the Greater Oregon League district title at La Grande High School.
The win — coupled with the GOL regular season title La Grande claimed last week — gives the Tigers the No. 1 seed to the Class 4A state tournament. LHS will open state play March 3.
“We had a list of goals heading into the season and now we can cross district champs off that list,” LHS junior Andrew Peasley said. “It feels really good to get this win and get ready for state.”
Elias Siltanen led three Tigers (19-2 overall) in double figures with 16 points, 10 of them coming after halftime. The 6-foot-5 senior drained four 3-pointers on the night. Peasley added 12 points and Zack Jacobs had 10.
“We just wanted to come out and execute today,” Siltanen said. “They’re a great team. They’re ranked No. 14 for a reason. We worked hard today and were able to come out with the win.”
Siltanen said the third meeting between the two GOL rivals — La Grande had won the two regular season contests by a combined 44 points — had the makings of a trap game. But the Tigers (19-2 overall) were careful not to overlook Ontario.
“We knew we had a target on our backs,” Siltanen said. “We knew they’d want to come out here and compete.”
Both teams sputtered in the first half, with La Grande taking a 35-24 lead into the break. But it was in the second half where the Tigers — who went undefeated in the GOL during the regular season — really went to work.
Ontario’s Shaun Hart started the second half scoring with a short jumper to trim the LHS lead to 35-26. From there, however, La Grande rode a 10-0 run to open a 45-26 advantage. Peasley had four points in the run, while Siltanen, Jacobs and G.T. Blackman all added buckets. Hart ended the run with a 3-pointer with 3:39 left in the third, but La Grande added five more quick points and a 50-29 lead, effectively putting the game away. Ontario would get no closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
“I thought we were just a little bit out of sorts in that first half,” LHS head coach Mark Carollo said. “I felt like we could score the ball, but defensively we just weren’t that intense, we just weren’t that into it. I thought the second half we did a better job of at least defending, getting stops and then getting out and getting some fastbreak points.”
While the Tigers were happy to add district title to the resume, it didn’t come easily at times. Ontario (11-9), which was coming off a 44-41 win over Baker on Thursday in the semifinals, managed to hang around for parts of the game, forcing La Grande into 18 turnovers which Ontario cashed in for 20 points, and 45 percent shooting from the floor.
“We need to be more disciplined on the defensive side,” Peasley said. “That first half we came out and it was a little rough. We came out (in the second half) with better intensity and played better defense.”
Ontario, which will play in a regional play-in game Saturday with a state berth on the line, was equally as sloppy with the ball, committing 22 turnovers, which La Grande turned into 28 points, while shooting just 46 percent from the field.
Hart led Ontario with 14 points, with 13 coming in the second half. Bobby Castillo scored eight points in the first half and finished with 12 for the game.
“It was good to get this under our belts,” Carollo said. “Now the rankings freeze and we can now really set our sights on what we want to be setting our sights on.”