Dougal Thomas’ first game as Blaine boys head basketball coach turned from the surreal to a nail-biter. However, the Borderites did not have an answer for Kyle Impero or the 18 extra free throws that Nooksack Valley shot as the Pioneers outlasted Blaine 52-45 in a non-conference game November 30. Impero scored 21 points, 13 from the free throw line, including 4 down the stretch to ice the game in the Pioneers' home opener.
“We still have a lot to work on,” lamented Thomas after the loss.
To start the game, both teams looked like it was the first game of the year, mustering only 13 points and two field goals in the first quarter. Both teams combined for 14 turnovers in the opening stanza. Thomas also had to sit key players as the Borderites got into early foul trouble. Todd Bird played barely eight minutes in the game and fouled out with 4:50 left. Andrew Price garnered a third foul early and spent time on the bench as well. The fouls and a 10-board deficit rebounding kept Blaine from getting into any kind of transition game.
“We were really late in our defensive rotations,” Thomas explained.
Price and Bird were also both playing the game in the shadow of injuries. Price recently had a cast removed for a broken hand sustained during football season. Bird broke a bone in his hand in practice but still played.
Despite Blaine’s free throw deficit, the Borderites were able to keep pace with the Pioneers thanks to their ability to hit six 3-point shots. Dustin Dhanani and Andrew Miller hit two each, with Sean Allen and Luke Feenstra each adding one. Dhanani led the Borderites with 13 points.
The Borderites took their only lead in the game in the third quarter, when after a Price blocked shot, Miller drilled a trey to go up 25-24. Nooksack seized momentum right back however on a B. J. Salmonson put back shot and a fast break lay-in by Impero. Dhanani stemmed the mini-run with a 3-pointer of his own, to close to 29-27, before the Pioneers opened a 7-point bulge with 2:58 left in the third quarter.
Blaine’s best opportunity to take control of the game came in the final quarter. However, trailing 44-40, Blaine missed 3 consecutive shots, including two tough lay-ins by Price that were sandwiched around two Nooksack fouls.
Price continually got loose underneath in the second half despite Nooksack Valley’s smothering 2-3 zone that was packed down on him. He got to the line on the next two possessions, but only converted 1 of 3. After missing the front end of Price’s 1-on-1, Feenstra hustled for the offensive rebound, tipping it to Price who laid it up to draw the Borderites to 46-43 with 51.6 seconds left in the game, before Impero hit a shot and 4 free throws to close out the game. Feenstra hit a meaningless jumper at the buzzer for the final score.
“In a month, when his hand is healed,” Thomas predicted, “Price will make those shots and we win the game.”