It’s hard to have a storybook ending that includes an 11-game losing streak, a host of lopsided routs and a disappointing season of unfulfilled expectations. Yet on senior night, Blaine’s last game of the year, in front of a packed house at the Borderites gym, a storybook ending was exactly what senior guard Dustin Dhanani got.
On a night when the seniors’ parents are normally introduced and presented to the crowd, Dhanani had only his father with him. His mother, Larissa Dhanani, was in a hospital room at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle undergoing treatment for leukemia.
Having surrendered a 14-point lead with his Borderite team seeming to be on the edge of a crushing twelfth consecutive loss against playoff bound 1A Nooksack Valley, Dhanani wrote his own ending to the story.
Grabbing a rebound after a furious sequence started by a Blaine miss and a subsequent Pioneer miss, Dhanani rushed alone up the floor with two defenders on his heels and drove to the basket to be fouled hard by Nooksack’s Tyler Perry with 28.1 seconds left in the game. Dhanani hit the first free throw giving Blaine a one-point lead.
The Borderites then survived two timeouts, a held ball out to Nooksack Valley and two missed shots before Andrew Price’s rebound of the final shot preserved a spine-tingling 47-46 Northwest conference (NWC) victory over the Pioneers Monday, February 7.
“What can you say,” a relieved Blaine head basketball coach Dougal Thomas asked of Dhanani’s foray up the floor at the pinnacle of the game, “I thought it was great. He was aggressive and made something happen. That’s what we want.”
Dhanani’s heroics came in a game where two of the NWC’s finest faced off for the second time and gave the fans exactly what they hoped. After being held in check in a first half that saw Nooksack fall behind by 10, the Pioneer’s incomparable guard Kyle Impero followed up his season high 49 points last week, by scoring 26 against the Borderites; 22 of the Pioneer’s 30 second-half points.
Equally impressive was Blaine’s Andrew Price whose domination was profound. Though he only scored 15 points, which was his season average, Price single-handedly changed the game by sweeping the glass for a season-high 21 rebounds, as Blaine out rebounded the Pioneers 37-26, allowing the Borderites to keep Nooksack Valley at bay long enough to win.
“The difference was that we had the lead,” Thomas said. “We’re not the kind of team that can come from behind.”
Another senior, Sean Allen, contributed 13 points including a trio of clutch 3-pointers. Allen was involved in a pivotal play in the game that demonstrated the intensity of the game down the stretch.
After Impero had hit yet another jumper, a frustrating turnover by Blaine sent Impero up the court again for a breakaway layup, but Allen came from behind with a hard foul that laid the Nooksack Valley star out on the court. Allen was called for an intentional foul and the ensuing free throws drew the Pioneers to within two with less than two minutes to play. Impero was fouled again by Dhanani after another Blaine turnover and he calmly sank two more free throws to tie the game to set up Dhanani’s last minute heroics. The game was being video recorded for the Borderite guard’s bed-ridden mother.
“Things are looking good,” Dhanani said of his mother’s prognosis. “She’s doing chemotherapy for two months, and then she is going to have a bone marrow transplant from her brother.”
Nooksack’s third consecutive loss means the Pioneers will travel to Kings for their first playoff game. The win improved Blaine to 3-18 (1-12 in the NWC) and left Blaine’s five seniors with a much more fulfilling feeling.
Photo by Janell Kortlever