Blaine girls take fifth place at state tourney

Published on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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The girls basketball team capped off a season’s hard work and brought home a trophy by placing in the top five in 1A statewide at the 2014 Hardwood Classic in Yakima.

The Borderites ended up in fifth-place, a surprising result given that they were ranked ninth heading into the tournament and were not expected to win any games. Despite, or perhaps because of these low expectations, Blaine sailed through the first round with a 43–27 win over Mabton. Adversity in the form of injuries and foul trouble led to a loss against King’s in the second round. The Borderites went on to lose to the perennial league heavyweights from Cashmere, and ended up in fifth 
place when all was said and done on the last day of the tournament March 8.

Although outsiders may not have expected much, the team wanted more than fifth place. An emotional roller coaster of a tournament and the final loss to Cashmere led to tears of disappointment after the final loss, but head coach Ryan Pike said later that the team has begun to realize the enormity of their accomplishment.

“It’s the highest any Blaine girls basketball team has ever placed in 1A, so it’s a major accomplishment,” Pike said. “One of our goals from the beginning of the season was to bring home a state trophy. The girls worked hard day after day all season, and it was great to see that pay off. To bring home a state trophy is pretty gratifying.”

Blaine kicked off the state tournament with a dominant performance in the game against the Mabton Vikings held in the Yakima Valley SunDome, just a few miles away from Mabton’s home court. The 9 p.m. start time apparently wasn’t too late for the Borderites, who came out lively.

“The first half was probably the best half of defense I’ve ever seen,” Pike said. “We got steal after steal after steal, and we went out and executed the defensive game plan perfectly.”

The game plan involved shutting down Mabton’s best shooter, Alyssa Nash by assigning Taylor V’Dovec to cover her. V’Dovec prevented Nash from scoring a single point in the game.

The Vikings pushed the game pace against the taller Borderites, but Blaine was up to the task, outscoring Mabton in every quarter except the third, when both teams scored 11 points.

“In the third they started to run with us, which we didn’t want, but we got back to our game plan in the fourth,” Pike said. “Our defense really propelled us in that game.”

The Borderites missed early shots on offense. That’s to be expected on a new court under the bright lights of the state tournament, but Blaine adjusted quickly.

“Once we got a feel for the rims, we started getting the looks we wanted. We spread the ball around and we started hitting our shots,” Pike said.

Scoring for the Borderites was evenly spread. Mandy Hayes led the team with 11 points, seniors Alexis McElwain and Olivia Olason each contributed nine and Taylor V’Dovec scored eight. Breanna Chau made nine assists on top of her six steals and four points, and McElwain hauled in 16 rebounds.

A crowd of Blaine fans supported the Borderites, and Pike said half the gym went “a little crazy” when the Borderites won.

“It was good to have a solid crowd of Blaine fans there, and we were really excited to make it through to the semi-finals. Winning the first game took a little pressure off,” Pike said.

Blaine next faced one of its strongest rivals the following night. The Borderites had lost to King’s in the district tournament in February, and were looking for redemption when it mattered most. But an injury to a star player and foul trouble for another starter made for a rough first quarter, and the Borderites never bounced back.

Hayes twisted her ankle in the first quarter. She tried to play later but doctors confirmed later the ankle was sprained with a slight tear. With the injury, Blaine’s leading scorer was out of commission. Olason got into foul trouble early, and came back into the game in the second half only to go out again with a twisted ankle. Combined with Hayes’ injury, the team had to make do without two of its starting players for most of the most critical game of the season.

“Mikayla Deming and Rhiana Breedlove came in and played really well. The girls played extremely hard and I thought they did a great job. They worked hard to overcome the situation they were in,” Pike said.

After they were outscored 13–4 in the first quarter, the Borderites fought back to within four points for a halftime score of 19–15. Even without Hayes to take the pressure off of her, V’Dovec scored an impressive 17 points. Chau drove to the hoop repeatedly to score a total of 10 points.

“They were outstanding and kept us in the game,” Pike said. 

Throughout the game, Pike was unhappy with the officiating. By the fourth quarter, Pike’s frustration boiled over and he received a technical foul for expressing it to the officials.

“King’s got away with some huge calls that would have changed the course of the game. The girls worked so hard all season to get here, and to have officiating come into question in the state tournament is a terrible thing,” Pike said.

The final score was 50–37, sending Blaine to a consolation game for third or fifth place.

“It was a disappointing loss and I don’t know if we were totally over it for the next game,” Pike said. “We tried to move on from it as quickly as possible, but that’s what happens in the state tournament. A lot of it is how well you can put things behind you and focus on the next game. With the emotional highs and lows, it’s a difficult thing to do, but Cashmere was in the same boat as us.”

Both Blaine and Cashmere went from playing for a shot at the state title straight to the consolation round. Cashmere was one of the top-ranked teams all season, and handed Blaine a 54–31 loss earlier in the season. Hayes was determined ineligible to play due to her injury from entering the game, but trainers let 18-year-old Olason make the decision to play on her still tender ankle.

“We came in limping,” Pike said. “To go in and play arguably one of the best teams in the tournament without all of your starters is a tough thing, but the girls played extremely hard. We were down at first, then we battled back, and it was good to see them keep fighting. I’m really proud of the heart and attitude the girls displayed.”

The final score of 47–35 landed the Borderites in fifth place, but ultimately that heart and attitude was more impressive to Pike than the fifth-place trophy.

“I can’t say enough about the effort the girls put in over three days. They seemed to mature over the course of the tournament and they made memories that will last a lifetime. All season we kept getting better and better, and it really showed in the tournament,” he said. “It’s bittersweet. We had a chance to play for higher; we wanted higher. It’s tough at first, but you give it a little while and you start to realize what an accomplishment it is to be fifth out of 60 or so teams from across the state.”

The Borderites will play in 2A next year. Pike said he will miss the three graduating seniors, Alexis McElwain, Olivia Olason and Rhiana Breedlove.

“It will be sad, but it’s part of high school sports. We’ll be working to fill those three spots in the offseason,” Pike said.