By Ian Ferguson
The Blaine boys basketball team won a close battle against the Bellingham Red Raiders in a “throwback” game in the Ken Waters Memorial Gym at home January 20.
The stands were packed with Blaine fans wearing their vintage Borderite orange gear, and the Borderites played an old-school barnburner of a game to match. Blaine won the Northwest Conference (NWC) matchup 60–57.
Blaine’s 6’4″ center Shaq Woods won the tipoff and drove to the basket for Blaine’s first points of the game. With his shooting on target, Blaine’s strategy of getting him the ball started paying off immediately. Bellingham matched Blaine point for point, with a full-court press that led to several fast breaks. Blaine point guards Kier Munzanreder and Jalen Kortlever weathered the full-court pressure and settled into a groove on offense. The score was tied at 16 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Bellingham’s 7′ center Logan Schilder had several blocks and it looked as though the Red Raiders had an answer for Woods’ strong presence under the basket. Bellingham went on a six-point run in the second quarter before the Borderites began to tighten up their zone defense and spread their shooting around. Wiley baskets from Munzanreder, Kortlever and Carson Knutzen, along with two three-pointers from Woods, helped Blaine keep up, but Bellingham built a six-point lead for a halftime score of 32–26.
Blaine started running a two-man press in the third quarter, and Schilder began to run into foul trouble. With five points from free-throws and Woods able to dominate under the basket again, Blaine chipped away at the Bellingham lead. Bellingham scored on several fast breaks, but Blaine played a cohesive zone defense that made it hard for the Red Raiders to run their offense.
“We had a really strong third quarter, and our defense was solid throughout the second half,” said Blaine head coach Shaun Pile.
By the end of the third quarter, the score was tied at 43. Woods started off the fourth quarter with his third three-pointer of the game, which sent the home crowd into an uproar, and Blaine’s offense fed off that momentum. The Red Raiders matched every hard-fought point until the game stood tied at 50 with five minutes left to play.
Anthony Ball stepped up in the fourth quarter with baseline drives that netted six points for Blaine, and with the clock winding down Bellingham began fouling in desperation. A late Bellingham three-pointer cut Blaine’s lead to three points and made for a tense final minute. Bellingham was able to take two three-point attempts in the final 30 seconds, but Blaine’s defense held strong for the win.
“It was a little too close for comfort, but it was a great battle and a close game throughout,” Pile said. “We did some things better in this game than we have all year.”
Pile has said all season that getting Woods the ball is a winning strategy.
“Whether he shoots it or not, we play better when he gets touches on the ball. He’s able to make things happen. We saw that tonight, and the team did a great job of kicking it in to him whenever they could,” he said.
Pile said he was pleased with the defense, especially in the second half. Blaine had 14 fouls to Bellingham’s 19, and Pile said that was also a good sign.
“I think we kept our composure tonight better than we have all season. In a physical, one-possession game like this that’s not easy to do,” he said.
Coupled with a loss at Anacortes January 16, the home win brings the Borderites to a 2–4 NWC record and 3–10 overall. Bellingham is 3–2 in the NWC and 8–5 overall.
Blaine’s next game is at Sehome on Friday, January 23, for the official “Coaches Against Cancer” game, a doubleheader in combination with the girls varsity game, which will be played beforehand. The NWC game begins at 7:30 p.m.