Borderites prepare for state battle
Blaine�s boys and girls varsity basketball teams clinched state tournament berths last weekend by winning their semifinal games at the Northwest District AA playoffs in Mount Vernon. The boys beat Meridian 64-59 and the girls downed Nooksack 53-43.
Though playoffs continue with district championship games, Friday night for the girls and Saturday night for the boys, with their first playoff win both teams guaranteed themselves a finish no worse than third and a trip to state.
The games were memorable nail-biting screamers played in the musty confines of Mount Vernon high school�s wonderful 50-year-old gym, a classic down-and-dirty wooden snake pit where the fans can make enough noise by stomping their feet on the hollow balcony bleachers to drown out a train.
The boys team went after Meridian like dogs after T-bone steak, relentless from the get-go despite coach Dan Rucker�s usual preference for a more deliberate approach. But there was no holding them back as they shot an almost impossibly hot 72 percent in the opening quarter blitzkrieg. Doug Goldsby opened with a driving lay-up and Ryan Alexander followed with another and then sank a trey. Meridian, scoreless for the first two minutes, finally broke the shut-out on a Cameron Gilmore three-pointer.
The floodgates opened at that point, the announcer theatrically repeating �GEELL-more for three� on each end of the court as their Gilmore (Cameron) and ours (Jake) traded three-pointers, scoring 23 of the combined 35 points in the first period between them.
Meridian, basically a good football team that plays basketball like a prizefight, began sending fouled Borderites to the line near the end of the first quarter. Blaine built its lead up to ten until a buzzer-beating three pointer sliced that back to seven. The good and quiet citizens of where ever Meridian high school actually is erupted at the dramatic shot, jumping up and screaming as if they�d all simultaneously sat on tacks
Jeff DeVries, Meridian�s leading scorer with a season average of 15.8 points per game, got nothing in the first quarter thanks primarily to Brendan Mulholland. The Trojan guard began finding his range in the second quarter, cutting Blaine�s lead to one. But Meridian was just as quickly pushed back as Blaine converted their turnovers to points, mostly on the rebounding talents of Ryan Goodwin. Then things got a little weird.
Blaine scored to make it 33-27 with just seconds left in the half, but DeVries had time to answer, charging down court and lobbing a desperate prayer of a long shot with an open-mouthed lunge like a bass going after a plug. It bounced on the rim five times, heads all over the crowded gym comically bobbing right along with it as the buzzer honked like a goose on steroids, the official at the button as hypnotized as everyone else until the ball finally dropped through the hoop and he lifted his finger.
�With prayers like that�..� said an exasperated coach Dan Rucker shaking his head, his voice trailing off as he led his team into the locker room. But the Borderites came back in the third quarter with their basic defensive plan working well, Mulholland staying on DeVries like a tattoo, leaving Blaine�s guards free to patrol and harass the perimeter. Rucker alternated Goodwin with the beefier freshman Joey Paciorek to mix it up in the paint. Paciorek�s junkyard dog instincts and hunger for the ball garnered six rebounds and eight points in the third quarter that pushed Blaine back up by ten for the start of the final period.
Blaine never let up on Meridian after that, and even when the lead narrowed to three late in the period the outcome was never really in doubt. �We�ve come through a lot,� said Rucker, �but we�ve emerged a better team with better leadership.�
Blaine�s Gilmore (Skippy), the league�s leading scorer and as certain a bet for league MVP as Blaine�s had since Luke Ridnour went south to Oregon, scored 23 points, plus five rebounds and five assists. Ryan Alexander dumped in 18 and Paciorek and Goldsby each had nine.
The boys play for the district championship at 8 p.m. Saturday at Mount Vernon High School against Bill Kelly and the Nooksack Valley Pioneers.