HERMISTON — It was a rematch in more ways than one Tuesday night at the Dawg House.
Hermiston hosted La Grande, a team that handed the Bulldogs a 10-point loss just three days ago, and the boys were ready to get back on the court and rewrite the outcome against a tough 4A Greater Oregon League team.
But it wasn’t just the players that had bragging rights on the line.
Hermiston head coach Casey Arstein and La Grande head coach Mark Carollo grew up three doors down from one another in Hermiston, were teammates on the basketball court and double partners in tennis.
Carollo has been the better athlete, Arstein admits, but now when the pair see each other again at Carollo’s wedding in June, Arstein can rub this 66-59 win in.
“I’ll take the dub over him tonight at home,” Arstein said after Hermiston escaped with the victory.
Turnovers and missed opportunities hurt Hermiston during its first outing at La Grande, but a cleaner performance at home gave the Bulldogs (5-9) the advantage for the entire of the game.
Junior Andrew James stepped in for an injured Jordan Ramirez, who is probable for Friday’s league opener, and aided in Hermiston’s efforts to go up 14-10 at the half.
James didn’t record any points on the night, but his selfless play and help moving the ball led to the Bulldogs opening the game with three consecutive 3-pointers and a total of 11 after by the end of the night.
Cesar Ortiz has been a reliable shooter behind the arc for Hermiston, but it was Cole Smith who got things started for the Bulldogs with the first 3-point of the night. Ortiz led the team with 29 points, while Smith was the only other player to hit double digits with 11.
The Tigers (10-7) struggled to get anything going in the opening eight minutes. Their first basket was a free throw from GT Blackman, who finished with 15 points, but that was nearly three minutes into the game.
La Grande’s top scorer Kaden Chandler was just one of three players to score in the first quarter for the Tigers. Chandler finished with 20 points, 14 of which were in the second half.
It would take La Grande nearly two full quarters to finally find its rhythm.
The Tigers went on 9-2 run to cut their deficit to only five points going into the break. Hermiston had a tight grip on its 28-23 lead, something they weren’t able to come by so quickly on the road against La Grande.
The two teams traded buckets in the third quarter, but the Tigers never quite got within reach. It was only after another short run capped off by Cade Reed dishing in the layup as time expired that La Grande was back in it.
“I was about ready to sit down, I thought we’d have a 10 point lead and stretch it to 12 but they play hard,” Arstein said.
The Tigers would cut the lead down to as little as two points, but the Bulldogs didn’t budge. Hermiston played sound, smart ball the last few minutes — something that was a rarity early in the season — and with the help of some clutch free throws from Smith and Andrew Earl, the Bulldogs held on to the lead.
Earl’s efforts off the bench was the highlight of Hermiston’s defense. Despite some missed opportunities by the sophomore in the first half, Earl had to back-to-back buckets to put the Bulldogs up by two possessions.
Then, on the final inbound with 7.6 seconds left on the clock, Earl jumped in front of a Tiger for a steal and was fouled on his breakaway to the basket. He sunk both and pushed the lead to 66-59.
La Grande hit a three to eclipse 60 points in the final two seconds, but Earl had already sealed the deal.
“He’s an athletic kid, only a sophomore, and it’s nice to have a kid off the bench to provide a spark and he’s very quick when he wants to be,” Arstein said of Earl.
Arstein dug deep into his bench, playing 10 of his 13 players. And for the guys who didn’t touch the rock, their efforts were still noted.
Hermiston will stay at home, bringing the momentum of its first win in nearly three weeks to the league opener.
The Bulldogs will host The Dalles Riverhawks at 7 p.m. Friday.
Hermiston got its first win of the new year Saturday against the Tigers, and earned the sweep after a 50-41 victory at home.
“Any type of win for us right now is helpful,” head coach Juan Rodriguez said with a smile.
It was one of Hermiston’s better starts, although it wasn’t the prettiest of performances overall.
The Bulldogs (4-11) got off to a 22-2 lead after the first quarter, and pushed the pace to frustrate the Tigers (7-9).
“Tonight we came out fast, kind of like what I expected,” Rodriguez said.
It took La Grande nearly half the first quarter to score its first basketball, a lay-in from Ella Dunlap — who finished with 11 points. That’s all the Tigers would get while Hermiston’s Hannah Thompson led the Bulldogs’ efforts.
The senior scored eight of her 10 points in the opening quarter, two being back-to-back three’s.
Only one other player would reach double figures for Hermiston, and that was Jordan Thomas with a game-high 22 points.
“Jordan has come a long ways,” Rodriguez said. “She’s finally developing that aggressiveness that we need from her and she’s establishing herself down low, and not only that but she’s finishing which is big.”
The Tigers continued to struggled until the final minutes of the second quarter, when La Grande went on a 9-5 to cut its deficit to 29-13 going into halftime.
That momentum stuck with the visiting team, as it opened the third quarter with a quick 9-2 run to trail by nine, 35-24.
“We just got tired and didn’t deny (Camryn Collman) the ball as well, and didn’t keep her on the side of the court. She got loose, and when she gets loose she scores and does things like that. Honestly, defensively we just stopped exectuting from the second quarter on.”
Despite not getting a shot off in the first quarter, Collman — who led the team with 16 points — was key in La Grande’s efforts late in the game. Nearly all of her points came in the second half, 12-of-16 to be exact, and she was able pull the Tigers within two possessions after nailed both her free throws with only 37.2 seconds left.
The Bulldogs, who have struggled from the charity stripe, made three of four free throws in the final 18 seconds to build up its lead.
Hermiston will start league play on the road in The Dalles, and will return home on Jan. 26 to welcome Hood River Valley.
LG 10 13 21 18 — 62
HHS 14 14 20 18 — 66
LA GRANDE — K. Chandler 20, G. Blackman 15, B. Bell 11, N. Chamerlain 8, C. Reed 2, N. Tsiatsos 2, J. Walker 2, H. Youngblood 2.
HERMISTON — C. Ortiz 26, C. Smith 11, A. Earl 8, P. Wicks 8, R. Andreason 6, T. McCullough 4, B. Davis 2, A. Mendez 1.
3-pointers — LG 4, HHS 11. Free throws — LG 4-7, HHS 13-15. Fouls — LG 21, HHS 13.
LG 2 13 13 13 — 41
HHS 22 7 10 11 — 50
LA GRANDE — C. Collman 16, E. Dunlap 11, J. Homan 6, L. Chamberlain 4, D. Lester 4.
HERMISTON — J. Thomas 22, H. Thompson 10, J. Romero 7, R. Meyers 6, A. Green 3, M. Wilson 2.
3-pointers — LG 1, HHS 4. Free throws — LG 8-19, HHS 4-16. Fouls — LG 15, HHS 18.
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.