It was a game worthy of the SunDome in March. And the Blaine boys basketball team is hoping that happens.
Because the Borderites gave mighty King’s all it could handle Friday night, Dec. 2, before coming up short, 61-59, in a thrilling matchup between two of the top Class 1A teams in the state.
“I feel bad for the kids,” said Nate Sullivan, who made his Blaine coaching debut a memorable one. “But this showed that we belong. Our kids showed they have a lot of heart.”
The Borderites proved their coach correct on both counts. After making it to the state tournament in the Yakima SunDome last March after an 18-year absence, this year’s Blaine squad has high expectations and was ranked No.8 in the Scoreboard Live preseason 1A state poll.
Those expectations were tested by King’s, a program that has been in the last two state championship games and was ranked third by Scoreboard Live. And midway through the third quarter, it was the Knights who looked like a championship-caliber team.
A Blaine cold spell on offense and foul trouble left Blaine down by 13. But that’s when the Borderites showed their heart.
“The gym was dead and it felt like the game was over,” said Sullivan. “But these guys never quit. They listen, and they always believed.”
An 11-0 Blaine run to end the third period made it a game again and when senior Carson Lehnert hit a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, the Borderites had retaken the lead, 48-47. The lead went back and forth over the last four minutes and with 20 seconds left, the Borderites were clinging to a two-point lead.
But King’s all-state guard Cameron Hiatt muscled inside for a 3-point play with 19 seconds to go, and a King’s free throw made it 61-59 with 3 seconds left. Lehnert’s 60-footer at the buzzer had a chance but bounced off the rim.
“We clawed back when we got down,” said Lehnert, who finished with 12 points. “We just have to complete the game.”
Blaine’s other senior standouts — Mathew Russ and Lucas Smith — led the Borderites with 16 and 14 points, respectively, each hitting a pair of 3-pointers. The two also got the toughest defensive assignments, often guarding Hiatt and junior standout Nick Linhardt.
But foul trouble hampered both, which was especially frustrating for Russ who dominated inside much of the game.
“We knew we could have done more,” said the 6-foot-5 forward. “We hope we get to play them again (at state).”
Lehnert concurred. When asked what the team learned from playing King’s, the senior said, “We learned we can compete with anyone in the state.”
Hiatt finished with a game-high 26 points and Linhardt had 22 for the Knights, who will get another Whatcom County test when they face Lynden Christian on Saturday at noon in a rematch of the last two state finals.
Blaine also has a Saturday game, hosting Bear Creek in another non-league contest at 5:40 p.m.
King’s 61, Blaine 59
King’s 17 15 9 20—61
Blaine 11 15 13 20—59
King’s: Adams 2, Cooper 4, Smith, Campbell, Christensen, Linhardt 22, Hiatt 26, Boyce 1, Myers 6.
Blaine: Smith 14, Creasey Pulphus 6, Russ 16, Koreski 2, Dalry 3, Lehnert 12, Tavis 6.
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.