BAKER CITY — If you wanted to gauge the intensity of Friday night’s boys basketball game between Baker and La Grande in the Baker gym, all you had to do was listen.
Or perhaps hold a hand to a bleacher seat, the way a person grips a steel rail to detect the thrum of an approaching train.
With the game in the balance for much of the fourth quarter, Bulldog and Tiger fans exchanged a series of thunderous roars that echoed through the gym and vibrated the plastic seats.
None was louder than when La Grande’s Zach Wiggins was called for an intentional foul after he collided with Baker’s Caden Long as Long flew in for a layin attempt with 3:19 left and Baker leading 44-40.
Tiger fans were displeased with this ruling.
And the sequence was important.
Long made 1 of 2 free throws and Baker retained possession due to the intentional foul.
Riley Flanagan then drew a foul and made both free throws to push Baker’s lead to 47-40 with 3:10 left.
The Bulldogs forced stops on two straight La Grande’s possession, and Gabe Gambleton hit a jumper in the lane to give Baker its biggest lead at 49-40 with 2:10 remaining.
The Tigers didn’t get closer than 6 points after that.
The battle between the Greater Oregon League’s top two teams was frequently rough and intense, with two technical fouls in addition to the intentional foul.
Flanagan drew a technical late in the third quarter, and La Grande’s Lukas Schelin was whistled for one in the fourth period.
“It was kind of a grinder of a game,” La Grande head coach Mark Carollo said. “Neither team shot the ball very well.
“I was happy with the way we battled in a hostile environment. It was a tough one for us tonight.”
After La Grande took a 4-2 lead early, Baker scored 9 straight points and led 11-6 after one quarter.
La Grande answered with a 7-0 run early in the second quarter, punctuated by Schelin’s rebound basket that tied the score at 13 with 5:42 left in the first half.
After a 5-0 Baker run, Schelin’s three-pointer trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead to 18-16.
But Justin Jenner picked up his fourth foul with 3 minutes left in the half and Baker went on an 8-2 run. Kaleb Myer’s three-pointer in the final minute cut the Bulldogs’ halftime lead to 28-21.
Baker extended its lead to 37-27 on consecutive layins by Flanagan and Gambleton. But La Grande ended the third quarter with a 7-0 run, capped by Cristian Mendoza’s three-pointer that trimmed Baker’s lead to 37-34 entering the fourth quarter.
The Tigers got as close as 42-40 on Schelin’s inside basket with 5:30 left, but he then drew the technical foul and Gambleton made both free throws.
Baker had one of its best defensive rebounding games of the season, denying La Grande many second chance opportunities.
The Tigers’ only rebound basket was by Wiggins in the final minute of the game.
“Baker definitely outhustled us on rebounds and 50-50 balls,” Carollo said. “We took a lot of rushed shots and when you do that, guys aren’t always in ideal rebounding position.”
Baker had a major advantage at the free throw line, making 22 of 33 compared with La Grande’s 11 of 18.
The Tigers had only one player in double figures — Myer with 11 — but eight players scored at least 2 points. Schelin added 9 points and Nick DuVernay and Mendoza had 7 each.
Baker had three players in double figures, led by Long’s game-high 15 (including 9 free throws), Flanagan with 13 and Gambleton with 11.
By avenging its 56-52 loss at La Grande on Jan. 10, Baker is now tied with the Tigers atop the GOL standings at 3-1.