Junior guard Isaiah Jones, a third-year starter, leads Baker in scoring at 16 points per game. (Lisa Britton/Baker City Herald)
Junior guard Isaiah Jones, a third-year starter, leads Baker in scoring at 16 points per game. (Lisa Britton/Baker City Herald)

Scoring hasn't been an issue for Baker's boys basketball team the last two seasons. The Bulldogs led 4A in scoring both years, averaging 63.2 and 68.9 points per game.

To reach the next level, though, Baker must tighten up on defense. And so far this season, the Bulldogs – with most of the players from quarterfinal teams the last two seasons – appear to be up to the task.

“Last year, we scored a lot of points, but we let the other team score a lot of points, too, which isn't a very good combination,” junior guard Isaiah Jones said. “This year we're more focused on defense. We're more worried about defense. We're realizing that defense is a little bit more important than offense.”

No. 1 Baker (16-0) continues to score at a high clip at 69.4 points, second in 4A to North Marion (69.5). But the Bulldogs are holding opponents to 41.5 points, markedly down from 52.3 last season.

Heading into Tuesday night's Greater Oregon League opener at La Grande (4-11), Baker is second in 4A in defense, behind Philomath (41.0).

“I told the kids, 'This year, I want to lead the state in defensive scoring average,'” coach Jebron Jones said. “The shot clock has helped us, for sure, just locking down on defense because teams can't stall the ball for 40, 50 seconds if they want to.”

The team's more rugged play reflects a mindset that Jebron Jones said was missing in the quarterfinal defeats to Henley in 2022 and Junction City last season.

“We weren't mentally tough,” Jebron Jones said. “Those couple years, we were known as a front-running team. We scored a lot of points, but we didn't do a good job of dealing with adversity. That's been the emphasis all year, to get more mentally tough.”

The Bulldogs are showing that they can grind out wins in low-scoring games. They defeated Post Falls (Idaho) 53-51 on a layup by junior Jaron Long with three seconds left. They won a back-and-forth game against Lapwai (Idaho) 57-52. And they overcame Marshfield 53-46 after trailing late in the third quarter.

“We need to learn how to persevere when times get tough through the course of the game,” Jebron Jones said. “We've been doing a good job of that this year. We've had a few close games where we held our composure, which was good to see. I just hope it carries on through the rest of the year.”

Baker is loaded with experience. Isaiah Jones, Long and senior Paul Hobson are third-year starters. Juniors Jaxon Logsdon and Grant Gambleton and seniors Giacomo Rigueiro and Hudson Spike also started at times the last two seasons. Sophomore Rasean Jones, a rotation player last season, starts this season.

“Last year we had the same team, so everyone is just one year older, which helps mentally and physically,” Isaiah Jones said. “Everyone is a little stronger, more mature.”

Isaiah Jones, the coach's son, is leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 16 points per game, matching his team-high average from last season. Hobson is next at 13 points per game.

Lacking an interior presence – the 6-foot-5 Rigueiro is the only player taller than 6-3 – Baker's offense excels with versatility. The Bulldogs list all of the players as guards.

“I don't have a 6-foot-8 guy, so they all have to be able to do everything,” Jebron Jones said. “We've been working on everybody developing a post-up game because that's hard to guard. People don't want to guard the block. All three levels, we have guys that can get it done.”

Without a big body, Baker needs an all-out effort on defense and rebounding.

“We just try to be tougher than the other team,” Jebron Jones said. “We like to scrap. We like to fight for every possession. Every loose ball, we like to go get.”

The Bulldogs have outstanding athletes.

Hobson, the GOL football offensive player of the year, has signed to play quarterback at Eastern Oregon. In 10 games last season, he passed for 2,743 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Rasean Jones, the coach's son, was a GOL football first-team pick at receiver and linebacker. He also won both hurdles races in the 4A track championships.

Isaiah Jones finished fourth and third in the 4A golf tournament the last two seasons, leading Baker to a state title last spring. Long placed third in the 800 meters in the 4A track meet.

The Bulldogs are heavy favorites to repeat in the four-team GOL. Their biggest tests remaining before the playoffs are Jan. 20 at Post Falls and Feb. 10 in the regular-season finale at No. 3 Cascade, the reigning 4A champion. Last year, Baker handed Cascade its only 4A loss, winning 54-46 at home.

Skyhawks rally

No. 2 Southridge came back from down 20 points in the first half to win at No. 5 Tualatin 67-54 in a 6A nonleague game Monday night.

The Skyhawks (12-1) trailed 35-20 at half but outscored the Timberwolves 29-8 in the the third quarter to pull ahead 49-43. Southridge is 11-0 against Oregon teams, its only loss a 77-43 defeat to Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) at the Les Schwab Invitational.

Junior guard Keenan Reckamp made three three-pointers and finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds for the Skyhawks. Junior wing Alonzo Hoff had 14 points and seven rebounds and senior guard Kaden Groenig added 13 points, five assists and two steals, making three three-pointers.

Tualatin (9-5), which got 19 points from sophomore guard Jemai Lake, played its fourth consecutive game without starting guard AJ Noland, who is dealing with a sore knee. The Timberwolves have played all season without two other key players, forwards Jayden Fortier (torn ACL) and Nolan Keeney (broken collarbone).

Cascade gets payback

No. 3 Cascade dominated the fourth quarter for a 69-45 home win over No. 7 Seaside 69-45 in a 4A nonleague game Saturday, avenging a season-opening road loss to the Seagulls.

Cascade (7-2), which led 45-43 after three quarters, outscored Seaside 24-2 in the fourth quarter. The Cougars held the Seagulls (6-4) scoreless in the quarter until the final minute

Kaiden Ford scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Droly Comstock scored seven of his team-high 19 points in the final quarter for the Cougars, who lost at Seaside 57-55 on Nov. 29.

Ismael Jantes and Austin Palmer scored 16 and 12 points, respectively, for the Seagulls.