BAKER CITY — For a few minutes Friday night in the Baker gym the La Grande girls basketball team seemed poised to end four years of frustration against the Bulldogs.
When Camryn Collman made a pair of free throws one minute into the fourth quarter, the Tigers trailed just 31-29.
An upset appeared to be brewing.
More than an upset, actually.
La Grande was seeking to end an 11-game losing streak to its Greater Oregon League rival. The Tigers last beat Baker on Feb. 19, 2016, a 66-45 drubbing in the GOL playoffs.
But it was not to be.
Baker, relying both on the experience in close games it amassed in winning the Class 4A state title last March, and on its star freshman post, Jozie Ramos, responded to the challenge and pulled away for a 46-36 win.
Ramos had three baskets sandwiched around a Sydney Keller putback and two free throws from Sydney Younger as Baker went on a 10-0 run over 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to lead 41-29.
Collman, who had a game-high 19 points, scored 7 straight to get La Grande within 41-36 with 1:23 left. But the Tigers were forced to foul, and Baker made 5 free throws down the stretch, 3 by Younger.
“We’re getting closer” to ending the losing streak to Baker, La Grande junior post Ella Dunlap said. “We’re just going to have to keep working hard to get where we want to be.”
The 5th-ranked Tigers didn’t wilt under Baker’s relentless defensive pressure in the first half.
Baker, ranked 3rd in Class 4A, led 13-6 early but the Tigers responded with consecutive baskets from Dunlap and Collman.
Baker’s 6-0 run to end the first half, capped by Lauren Benson’s three-pointer from the corner at the buzzer, gave the Bulldogs their largest lead to that point, 26-17.
Dunlap said the Tigers had a “team moment” in the locker room at halftime when they talked about needing to play together.
The impromptu pep talk was effective.
After Benson’s second three-pointer gave Baker a 29-19 lead two minutes into the second half, La Grande ran off 8 straight points, culminating with Collman’s three-point play on a rebound basket in the final 15 seconds of the third quarter.
Four Tigers scored during the run. Dunlap made 1 of 2 free throws, Lauran Rinker hit a 15-footer and Josie Reagan had a putback before Collman’s three-point play.
La Grande head coach Brian Wright said he was pleased with the Tigers’ rally in the third quarter.
“We made a few shots and the energy level just comes up,” he said.
Wright attributed Baker’s ability to pull away in the fourth quarter in part to the Bulldogs’ experience, and in part to the effects of La Grande’s long losing streak to its rival.
“Some of it for us is mental, to be honest,” he said. “At some point we’d like to get over that hump.”
Wright pointed out that after La Grande got within 2 points early in the fourth quarter the Tigers had consecutive defensive stops and a couple chances to take the lead.
“I felt like we had a good chance if we could have gotten one of those shots to go down,” he said. “It was very close.”
Friday’s game was physical, with multiple scrums for loose balls that ended with players sprawled on the floor.
La Grande’s Grace Neer drew a technical foul after one such exchange.
Collman was the only Tiger in double figures. Rinker added 6 points and Dunlap 5.
With Baker and La Grande clearly the top two teams in the GOL, Wright said he looks forward to the possibility of a third game between the rivals prior to the state playoffs.
“You want to play quality teams, especially at this time of year,” he said.
La Grande (11-6 overall, 2-2 in the GOL), returns to action Tuesday by playing host to Nyssa in a non league game at 7:30 p.m.