With the postseason fast approaching, the Blaine and Mount Baker boys basketball teams faced completely different challenges when they faced off in the Deming Dome.
For the Borderites, it was fine-tuning what has been working well for them all season — playing hard-nosed defense and sharing the ball offensively — which they did in overwhelming the host Mounties, 67-32, on Wednesday night, Jan. 19.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Blaine coach Brett Farrar said of his team, which raised its record to 7-5 overall and 6-4 in the Northwest Conference. “They told us, ‘Message received.’ They rose to the challenge.”
For the Mounties, the challenge was not to be discouraged even though they’ve yet to win a game. That’s because when the regular season ends in two weeks, Mount Baker, Blaine and the other three Class 1A NWC teams automatically qualify for the district tournament with a chance to go to state.
“It’s not easy to go to work when things aren’t going well,” said Mount Baker coach Ben Zakheim, whose team fell to 0-12 overall and 0-10 in league. “We want to hone in on keeping positive. We still have an opportunity (to have success in the playoffs).”
On Wednesday, Blaine showed why it is a favorite — along with undefeated Lynden Christian — to nab one of the league’s two Class 1A bi-district berths into state.
The Borderites used a fullcourt press, a halfcourt trap, and an aggressive matchup zone that made every trip downcourt difficult for Mount Baker. The Blaine defense was especially effective after intermission, when the Borderites held the Mounties to only eight points, only three of which came in the fourth quarter.
“He wanted us to play harder on defense,” junior Carson Lehnert said of Farrar’s halftime talk. “We just want to get better every day and to ride this momentum into the postseason.”
Lehnert did his part hitting one of his patented 3-pointers and two other buckets in the opening minutes as Blaine jumped out to an early double-digit lead. He would finish with three 3s and 13 points.
The most memorable points, however, were provided by Matthew Russ, who came off the bench to throw down two impressive dunks, the second on an alley-oop just before the third-quarter buzzer. The junior finished with a game-high 14 points and even had a pair of 3-pointers himself.
“The dunks get us hyped up,” said the man of many dunks but few words.
That they did. And it didn’t hurt that Russ and Lehnert got a lot of help on offense from their teammates, including the reserves. Ten of the 12 Borderites scored with the bench accounting for 34 points, including all 14 in the fourth period.
Senior Cole Thomas and junior Lucas Smith added 9 points each with Smith’s coming on three 3-pointers.
Senior Caleb Horsmon led Mount Baker with 8 points and a pair of 3-pointers. Zakheim praised his team for playing hard until the end and mentioned the play of senior Davin Beason, who had 7 points and led the team in rebounding, and senior Draven Davis, who added 5 points.
And now, with four regular-season games remaining, what’s the challenge for the Borderites? “To go to state,” said Russ.
Unless Blaine picks up another game, the Borderites aren’t scheduled to play again until next Wednesday, Jan. 26, when they host Squalicum. The Mounties have six more games scheduled with the next one coming at Sehome on Friday, Jan. 21.
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.