By Ian Ferguson
After overcoming challenges all season long, the Blaine girls basketball team fell to third-ranked White River in a state tournament elimination game that was exciting to the bitter end.
The Borderites battled to within three points of a tie with less than two minutes to play, but White River, ranked third in the state in 2A, pulled away for a final score of 60–51. White River will go on to play first-ranked Mark Morris, while the Borderites ended their strong post-season run just shy of their goal of the final eight.
Blaine coach Ryan Pike said the team’s mood at the final buzzer was deflated.
“You expect that. With five seniors, when the season ends, it’s a bittersweet moment. It’s hard to accept that it’s over, but you look back at all the good times over the course of the season and all the things they were able to accomplish.”
In the beginning of the season, few would have chosen the Borderites to make a strong post-season bid. Star Taylor V’Dovec was out with a toe injury, they were facing larger 2A teams after a reclassification from 1A, and the team struggled to find a combination that worked.
The Borderites lost eight of their first nine games of the regular season. One of those losses in December was to White River, a powerhouse team that trounced the Borderites at home 81–50.
Then, starting in early January with a win against Mount Baker, the Borderites started to come together. From that point on, they went 8–11 in the regular season. They took third place in the 2A district tournament, defeating Anacortes, Shorecrest and Sehome and losing only to Lynden.
By the time they faced White River again in the regional round of the state tournament, the Borderites were “a completely different team from the team in December,” Pike said.
“Not only having Taylor [V’Dovec] back, but the confidence and experience level of everyone on the team improved so much.”
The regional game was played at Puyallup High School February 28. Blaine surprised the White River Hornets by jumping out to a six-point lead to start the game. The teams battled back and forth, with both missing some up-close shots, and the first quarter ended with Blaine ahead 12–10.
In the second quarter, White River took the lead and steadily built it. V’Dovec got into foul trouble and Blaine was outscored 16–6 in the second quarter.
“We tried to battle, but we couldn’t keep up with their offense,” Pike said. “We started losing rebounds.”
White River hit a couple three-pointers to start the third quarter, and the Borderites fell even further behind. By the fourth quarter, White River had built a 14-point lead. That’s when the veteran Blaine players started doing what they have done so many times before: playing strong under pressure.
With the knowledge that their season was slipping away, the Borderites switched to a full-court defense and started hitting every shot, chipping away at the White River lead. Mandy Hayes hit a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter.
Breanna Chau hit two points and forced a turnover. Mikayla Deming drew a foul and made both free throws, then Chau hit six consecutive free throws. With less than two minutes to play, V’Dovec made a two-point shot to bring the score to 49–46.
“At that point I had complete confidence that we were going to come back and win the game,” Pike said. “The girls have been in that high-pressure situation so many times before and come through with the win.”
But White River hit a three-pointer that stunned the Borderites, and locked in their defense to hold onto the lead.
“White River is a very good team, and there’s no shame in losing to a good team when you play your hardest,” Pike said. “The girls definitely put in the effort, and played as hard as they could.”
The loss was especially bittersweet for the five seniors on the team, four of whom have now played in a state tournament every year since they were freshmen.
“This senior class is probably the best class to have ever come through Blaine girls basketball,” Pike said. “To be able to go to the state tournament all four years is a testament to who they are and how hard they worked. They got a top-eight trophy two of those years, and they went through reclassification twice, which is really taxing but they handled it well. What these five girls have been able to accomplish is amazing.”
V’Dovec, Chau, Hayes, Deming and Barb Pocus will graduate this year, leaving big shoes for their teammates to fill. Josie Deming, Kjirstin Larson, Kiana Gray, Makayah Veliz and Lyric Berry will be the names to watch, Pike said.
“I’m hoping they can accept the challenge to step up and become the leaders of Blaine girls basketball next year.”
Looking back on this season, Pike said he was proud of everyone on the team.
“We went back and beat the teams that beat us earlier in the season, and that’s a gauge of the team’s improvement,” he said. “It shows how hard the girls worked. They should be really proud of everything they’ve accomplished this year.”