1A Boys: Blaine Tops Toppenish To Take Third In State

None of the players on the current Blaine basketball team were alive the last time the Borderites placed at state, which made Blaine’s third-place trophy that much more special.

The Borderites are bringing home the hardware after toppling Toppenish, 70-60, in the consolation finals at the Class 1A state tournament in the Yakima SunDome on Saturday, March 4.

It is Blaine’s first trophy since 2004. And when you constantly face programs like Lynden and Lynden Christian that return to state every year and always seem to place in the top six — spoiler alert: the Lions and Lyncs both repeated as state champions on Saturday — it’s easy to forget how special any trophy is.

“It’s a tough road just to get to state,” said first-year Blaine coach Nate Sullivan. “The kids said (at the beginning of the season) that we’d be going to state. But one bad day, one injury, and we don’t get here.”

Check Whatcom Hoops for the latest stories and photos from the state tournaments in Yakima.

The Borderites certainly had a tough road, losing seven games including the district championship game that meant having to win two loser-out games just to get to the state regionals. But once they reached state — and last year was the first time since the glorious 2004 season — the Borderites shined.

First, as the seventh seed, they beat second seed Zillah. Then they knocked off Overlake and, after a tough loss to King’s in the semifinals, came back to take care of Toppenish. By placing third, Blaine finished ahead of Zillah, third seed Annie Wright, and fourth seed Freeman not to mention all but two other teams in the state.

“I knew it was something we could grab,” said Sullivan. “But we spent the whole season saying it’s one game at a time. Hopefully, when they look back on the season, today will be the fondest memory.”

It should be. The game pitted the quick and athletic Wildcats against the taller and athletic Borderites. And since this is basketball and not a 100-meter dash, it was Blaine that ruled the day.

Senior Matt Russ used his 6-foot-4 athleticism to dominate inside, scoring 19 points and pulling down a dozen rebounds as the Borderites won the rebounding battle, 35-28. He almost had a triple double with 7 assists on Saturday, and for his three-day effort in Yakima, Russ was named to the all-tournament second team.

He also got lots of help Saturday. Senior Lucas Smith, a 6-3 point guard, had 16 points and 8 rebounds, 6-3 junior Noah Tavis had 13 points and 5 rebounds, and 6-3 senior Ethan Koreski added 8 points and 4 assists. 

Toppenish countered with 6-5 senior Shane Rivera, who had 25 points, and a bunch of 6-foot-and-under players, including 5-11 Josh Perez, who had 24 points before fouling out. But their big two got little help from the little 10 as none of the other Wildcats scored more than five points.

The Borderites turned a four-point halftime lead into a double-digit margin in the third quarter. When the Wildcats closed to within a half-dozen with just over four minutes left, Smith hit a 3-pointer, Tavis scored on a layup off an in-bounds play, and a streaking Lehnert hit a fastbreak layup to boost the lead back to 11.

Smith’s breakaway layup with a minute left sealed the deal and forced the Blaine administration to find some room in the trophy case for the newest addition.

While it wasn’t the state championship they’d dreamed of since playing together in the youth leagues, Smith wasn’t complaining about the 19-8 season.

“These are my brothers,” said Smith. “We’ve been playing with the same guys since fifth grade. We wanted that championship, but Coach said third (place) felt good.”

So does winning on Saturday feel good?

“It feels great,” he said.

Blaine will say goodbye to a senior class that brought the Borderites back to state last March after an 18-year absence. The Blaine seniors are Smith, Russ, Koreski, Lehnert, Lawrence Creasey Pulphus, Josh Audette, and  Alex Censale.

Blaine 70, Toppenish 60

Toppenish         14       20       18       8—60

Blaine                 14       24       23       9—70

Toppenish: Graysen Mesplie 4, Josh Perez 24, Shane Rivera 25, Santana Luna 1, Jayden Hanson 2, Josh Myers, Anthony Cisneros, Izaiah Maldonado 3, Nick Cortes, Jason Sanchez 1, Gage Williams.

Blaine: Lucas Smith 16, Lawrence Creasey-Pulphus 7, Mathew Russ 19, Ethan Koreski 8, Conner Dalry 2, Carson Lehnert 5, Noah Tavis 13.


At Yakima Valley SunDome

Wednesday, March 1

First round

#6 Toppenish 62, #14 Seton Catholic 42 (loser out)

#2 Zillah 80, #10 Seattle Academy 55 (loser out)

#5 King’s 72, #12 King’s Way Christian 49 (loser out)

#8 Overlake 50, #16 Lakeside (9 Mile) 46 (loser out)

Thursday, March 2

Toppenish 73, #4 Freeman 64

#1 Lynden Christian 58, Zillah 45

King’s 66, #3 Annie Wright 63

#7 Blaine 80, Overlake 52

Friday, March 3

Consolation games

Zillah 69, Freeman 57 (loser out)

Overlake 50, Annie Wright 49 (loser out)


Lynden Christian 82, Toppenish 60

King’s 57, Blaine 38

Saturday, March 4

Consolation game

Zillah 77, Overlake winner 58 (winner fourth, loser sixth)

Consolation final

Blaine 70, Toppenish 60 (winner third, loser fifth)

Championship game

Lynden Christian 57, King’s 47 (winner first, loser second)

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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