Hermiston at La Grande basketball

Hermiston’s Trent Pitney (2) looks for a teammate to pass to after stealing the ball From La Grande’s Nick DuVernay Wednesday during a nonleague basketball game in La Grande. The Bulldogs won the contest, 60-44.

LA GRANDE — The Hermiston Bulldogs used balanced scoring and crisp passing — an emphasis of head coach Drew Preuninger — to pick up a win in their season opener.

Jaime Ramirez led four players in scoring with 12 points, and the Bulldogs never trailed in defeating the La Grande Tigers on the road Wednesday, 60-44.

“That’s one thing we’ve been really working on is trying to pass more,” Preuninger said. “I know in the past we usually dribble-drive. I’m trying to get more passing, cutting (and) screening away.”

Hermiston’s perimeter passing and kickouts led to four first-half 3-pointers as the Bulldogs built a 29-19 halftime lead, and seven 3s on the night. But in the second half it was interior passing that helped set up baskets in the paint and helped Hermiston eventually pull away, and it’s something the coach will continue to emphasize.

“I would love to see them get it inside more, though,” Peuninger said. “That’s one thing at halftime I was saying (to the team). I know we don’t have height, but if we get it inside it opens up the outside. ... They did it a couple more times (in the second half), which I was happy about.”

Ramirez, Ivan Rangel and Trent Pitney were among those who got into the paint to score for the Bulldogs in the second half. Two layups by Ramirez, a drive by Sergio Madrigal and two field goals by Pitney were all part of a 17-5 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. The run pushed a seven-point Hermiston lead to 58-39 midway through the fourth quarter — the largest lead of the game.

Ramirez was joined in double figures by Rangel and AJ Ramos, both of whom scored 11 points, and by Jaiden Ruloph, who added 10, including a pair of third-quarter 3s to help stem a La Grand run.

As a team, Hermiston shot 20-for-54 and had 11 assists. The Bulldogs also had a 34-29 rebounding edge, with Rangel leading the way with 10 boards.

“You gotta give credit to Hermiston,” La Grande head coach Mark Carollo said. “They played extremely hard tonight. They came out and really wanted the victory, and I would say we were a little bit passive.”

La Grande trailed by as much as 13 points in the first half, but closed the gap to 10 on a Brady Hutchins 3 late in the period, then used a 6-0 run in the third quarter to get as close as 36-31 on a pair of Lukas Schelin free throws and layups by Cristian Mendoza and Schelin.

Most of La Grande’s field goals in that third quarter, when it shot 50%, came from the dribble-drive, either right to the rim or on drop-offs to an open player. Carollo said part of the message at the half was to attack Hermiston’s full-court pressure and not be passive. The coach said, though, his team needs more consistency.

“It was more aggression in the second half, not trying to back down and understanding sometimes you gotta beat fire with fire,” he said. “If they’re going to pressure us, that’s going to open backdoor cuts (and) backdoor screens.”

Kaleb Myer was the lone scorer for La Grande in double figures, finishing with 19 points — eight of which came in the first quarter and nine in the fourth. Mendoza added seven and both Hutchins and Schelin had six, but La Grande was just 15-for-53 from the floor.

Hermiston (1-0 overall) visits Sunnyside on Saturday.

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