BAKER CITY — Hailey Zikmund gave Baker the lead, and then she made sure the Bulldogs kept it.
The Baker junior scored in the lane with 2:05 left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 41-39 lead over La Grande on the way to a 49-42 win in a classic contest between the rivals for the Greater Oregon League championship Saturday night in the Baker gym.
Baker senior point guard Sydney Younger whipped a pass to Zikmund, who was open in front of the basket.
But the Tigers, who were trying to end a 12-game losing streak to the Bulldogs, including two regular season GOL games earlier this year, didn’t wilt after failing to hold a lead that reached four points late in the third quarter.
After Younger made two free throws to boost Baker’s lead to 43-39 with 1:39 left, La Grande’s Ella Dunlap, who led all scorers with 21 points, made one of two free throws.
After a Baker miss, the Tigers’ dynamic point guard Camryn Collman, who scored 13 points, nailed a 15-footer to cut Baker’s lead to 43-42 with 53 seconds to go.
The Tigers were forced to foul, and it was Zikmund who ended up at the line with 27.4 seconds left.
She swished both shots.
“I was really scared,” Zikmund said with a smile after the game. “It was the first time I’ve been in a situation like that. I just told myself I have to make these. It was amazing. It’s hard to explain.”
Trailing 45-42 after Zikmund’s free throws, La Grande had one last chance.
Collman’s 3-pointer from the top of the key missed, but the Tigers grabbed the rebound and Alexyss Chamberlain was fouled with 11.9 seconds left.
Chamberlain missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity, and Baker secured the rebound after a scrum under the basket.
Dunlap was called for a technical foul for slamming the ball to the court, and Younger made both foul shots.
Baker retained possession after the technical, and Younger was fouled and again made two free throws. She was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line — all in the fourth quarter — and led Baker with 14 points.
“The reality is that game could have gone either way,” La Grande head coach Brian Wright said. “You could play the last quarter again, and who knows how many times we’d win and they’d win. From this point you just use it as a learning experience and move on.”
Baker coach Mat Sand said he expected nothing less than a stout challenge from La Grande after the teams’ two previous meetings, which Baker won 42-35 and 46-36.
“La Grande’s definitely a good team — we know that,” Sand said. “I told the girls that every game from here on out is going to be just like that one.”
After Collman’s 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in the first half cut Baker’s lead to 22-21 at the break, the teams swapped the lead six times in the third quarter before Dunlap scored five straight points to give the Tigers their largest advantage, 31-27, with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
Baker struggled to prevent entry passes to Dunlap, and once the 5-foot-11 junior post had the ball in the key, she usually either scored or drew a foul.
Dunlap was 5-for-8 from the free throw line.
“She was tough tonight,” Sand said of Dunlap. “She’s very skilled.”
But Baker, the defending Class 4A state champion and riding a 13-game winning streak, responded to La Grande’s run.
Sydney Keller drove the lane and scored, and Zikmund hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in the third quarter to give Baker the lead back at 32-31.
Collman made one of two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to tie the score at 32 entering the final period.
Baker suffered a key loss when Keller was called for a charge, her fifth foul, with 4:43 left. The junior guard is a vital part of Baker’s swarming defense.
After Keller fouled out, Dunlap scored inside to give La Grande a 35-33 lead. The next few minutes were a duel between Younger and Dunlap.
Younger made a layin to tie the score at 35. Dunlap followed with a basket to regain the lead for La Grande. Younger made two free throws to forge another tie, but again Dunlap responded, this time with a rebound basket, and La Grande led 39-37 with 3:12 left.
Baker freshman post Jozie Ramos, who had 12 points despite being hampered by a sore back, scored inside with 2:41 left to tie the score for the last time and set the stage for Zikmund’s heroics.
La Grande (17-7 overall) waits to see who it meets March 6 in the first round of the state playoffs.