Bellingham Boys Pass Test, Hold Off Nooksack

In a game both coaches said would be early-season tests for their squads, it was the Bellingham boys basketball team that passed with flying colors in holding off Nooksack Valley, 64-50, on Saturday night, Dec. 9.

The visiting Bayhawks (3-0 overall, 2-0 in Northwest Conference) built a 10-point halftime lead and then had an answer for every Pioneer rally in the second half.

“We’re competitors,” said senior guard Wyatt Stephan, who led Bellingham with 19 points. “We showed we can compete with anyone.”

For the Bayhawks, it was indeed a tale of two halves, at least shooting-wise. In the first half, Bellingham depended on the long ball, making six 3-pointer, four of them by junior guard Harmon Wienkers. In the second half, the Bayhawks had only one 3, but sank 13 of 19 free throws after not going to the line the first two quarters.

Said Stephan: “Harmon was lights out (in the first half). Then we played better team basketball. It was a lot of fun.”

Bellingham coach Brad McKay also was happy with his squad’s performance both in matching Nooksack Valley’s physical play and in shutting down the Pioneers’ offense at clutch times.

“It was a messy game but a good win,” said McKay. “We battled through a lot of stuff. Even when they were being more physical, we played good ball. And we locked them down pretty well.”

For Nooksack Valley (2-1 overall, 1-1 in NWC) it was a disappointing home opener, but coach Jason Heutink saw a lot to be pleased with, especially since his team had only had seven practices with the new coaching staff because of the football team’s extended season.

“There’s no quit in this team,” said Heutink. “We play to the (final) buzzer. And not quitting means a lot to me.”

After the Bayhawks took command at halftime, it appeared they would make it a rout by quickly building the lead to 16 to start the third quarter. But every time Bellingham got the lead up to 14 or 16 or 18, the Pioneers would fight back and cut it back to 12 or 10.

Unfortunately for the Pioneers, that would be as close as they’d get. When forced to foul in the fourth period, Nooksack could only watch as Stephan and Wienkers each hit 3 of 4 free throws.

“They came out hotter than a pistol,” said Heutink. “The shooters that we knew could shoot shot very well. (In the second half) I thought if we just got a couple of stops and a couple of buckets we’d be right back in it, but we never got over the hump.”

Stephan had seven of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and finished 5 of 6 from the line. Wienkers finished with 17 points thanks to his four 3s and also made 5 of 6 free throws. Junior guard Kincade VanHouten added 13 points and a pair of 3-pointers, and senior post Jesse Harward contributed 8 points.

For Nooksack Valley, junior forward Tristan Kamphouse came off the bench to spark the second-half surge with 12 of his 14 points and all four of his 3-pointers coming after halftime. Junior guard Caden Heutink had 12 points, and junior forward Colton Lentz added 10 points for the Pioneers.

While the game taught both coaches about their teams, they were quick to look ahead to future tests.

“We have to believe we can win every game,” said McKay, whose next game is at Sedro-Woolley on Tuesday. “Now we’re done with Nooksack. Next it’s Sedro. It’s a cliche, but we have to play one game at a time.”

And for Heutink, whose squad is at Oak Harbor on Wednesday, the future remains bright: “The season is definitely a marathon, and we want to be playing our best ball in February.”

Bellingham 64, Nooksack Valley 50

Bellingham              17       13       15       19—64

Nooksack Valley     10       10       13       17—50

Bellingham: Stephan 19, VanHofwegen 5, Craig, Wienkers 17, Togagae 2, VanHouten 13, Harward 8.

Nooksack Valley: Coppinger 5, Olney, Lentz 10, Heutink 12, Wichers, Brown 5, Vigre, Kamphouse 14, Lankhaar, D. Ackerman, Hickey, B. Ackerman 4.

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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