Another loss, this time a difficult 60-51 thriller to Meridian Tuesday, January 25, would not merit such optimism, considering Blaine’s 2-14 record (0-9 in the Northwest conference). Yet there were so many signs that the Borderites had turned the corner in so many ways, despite the loss of starters Todd Bird and Dustin Dhanani. Indeed, the game started with some of the tell-tale symptoms that have plagued the Borderites all season, as Blaine committed nine turnovers in the first quarter and fell behind by as many as 10. This was a Trojan team Blaine had soundly beaten in their building back in early December.
“It’s killing them to lose,” said a true believer, Blaine head basketball coach Dougal Thomas. “They are working so hard everyday.”
The fruit of those efforts have been seen in the last two games. Instead of folding up the tent and allowing the Trojans to press on the gas, Blaine went on a 10-3 run to close the gap to one early in the second period. Meridian opened the bulge to nine again with under a minute to play, but again the Borderites closed the margin as senior Sean Allen hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining in the half to keep the lead only six. Allen had a splendid game, nailing four clutch treys and finishing the game with 15 points.
The first five minutes of the third quarter were a gunfight, with both teams going back and forth as Meridian tried to get some distance between themselves, never getting out more than eight points. A three-pointer by Allen and a basket by Andrew Price drew the Borderites back to five at 37-32. Then two crucial errors over a one-minute span changed the complexion of the game. The first sequence occurred after Blaine missed two three-pointers. Price grabbed the second offensive rebound and before he could get the ball up to shoot, he was stripped by Meridian’s Mitchell Tripp and the Trojans’ Edward Garcia converted the break on the other end to open the lead to seven.
A blocked shot by Blaine’s Chase Speelman set up a basket by Andrew Miller to close it back to five. Blaine secured the defensive rebound and prepared to bring the score within three when Miller inexplicably turned the ball over on a routine pass to teammate Mario Gobbato. Tripp converted the steal into a basket. Meridian’s Tait Slesk hit a trey, and the lead was suddenly 10 near the end of the third quarter.
The Borderites made another push coming out in the fourth quarter ignited by two price baskets and yet another three-pointer by Allen. The 8-2 run brought the Borderites within three with 4:31 left in the game. Coming out of the Meridian time-out, Allen sought to capitalize on the momentum, missing two treys, which Slesk converted into Trojan baskets to give Meridian a seven-point cushion with just over three minutes to go.
One of the things that the Borderites did well jumped up to bite them late in the game. So crisply had they played that Blaine was nowhere near foul trouble or even the one and one. When time came to slow the game down and send the Trojans to the line, the Borderites didn’t have enough fouls. Blaine had to waste valuable time near the end, including four consecutive fouls, just to get Meridian to the line and halt the clock’s inevitable course. Meridian hit four free throws and got a run-out lay-up by Chase Heslep to close out Blaine.
“(Matt) Vinke was really tough on us,” commented Thomas on Meridian’s lead scorer with 18, “and Slesk hit some really tough, important shots down the stretch.”
Still, there were so many clues to the improvement of Blaine. The most telling was the Borderite’s work on the boards, dominating the Trojans 35-23, which included 11 offensive rebounds. The most productive was Price, who had yet another double-double despite being triple covered most of the night. Price led all scorers with 20 points and all rebounders with 12 boards.
“I’m so proud of Andrew,” Thomas reflected on Price. “He’s getting collapsed on by defenses every game.”
Thomas is hopeful that Dhanani will return to the lineup Thursday, January 27, for Blaine’s home game against Bellingham at 7:30 p.m.
Photo by Blaise Bookout