It was the annual “little league night,” and the Nooksack Valley boys basketball team couldn’t have put on a better show for all the little Pioneers in attendance Tuesday night, Jan. 4.
The big Pioneers dominated the boards and dominated the scoreboard in notching their first Northwest Conference win of the season, a 63-42 victory over Mount Baker.
“That’s always the goal,” said Nooksack Valley coach Rich Skillman of winning on youth basketball night. “This is where it starts. We want to create that excitement (in the youngsters).”
Considering how young his own team is — Nooksack Valley starts three freshmen and only has one senior and two juniors on the roster — Skillman was pretty excited as the Pioneers raised their overall record to 3-5 and their NWC record to 1-3.
“We’re a young team trying to figure out how good we can be,” he said. “They’re young but smart and they work hard. It was a great overall win.”
Leading the way for Nooksack Valley was one of its veterans, junior Bennett DeLange. The rangy guard was on fire from the start, scoring 12 of the Pioneers’ 13 first-quarter points and finishing with a game-high 33. He also had six rebounds and five steals.
“It felt amazing,” said DeLange of his hot hand, which included three 3-pointers and 5 of 6 shooting from the free-throw line. “This is a breakthrough game for us. Now we’re hoping for more wins and a deep run in the playoffs.”
For Mount Baker, which fell to 0-8 overall and 0-6 in league play, the turning point was early in the second period when its two big men — Jesse Harward and Davin Beason — got into foul trouble and had to sit.
Nooksack Valley took advantage with a 9-0 run capped by DeLange’s three-point play that gave the Pioneers a double-digit lead with four minutes left in the period. After that, the relentless Pioneers continually crashed the boards and used a 24-9 third period to put the game away.
“We’re deep at guard and wing but not in the post,” said Mount Baker coach Ben Zakheim, whose Mounties also had the handicap of having only one practice the past two weeks because of the weather. “With our bigs out, boards were the difference. But I thought they (the Mounties) gave it their best effort.”
Junior Jacob Wade exemplified the Mounties’ effort and optimism despite the winless start to the season. The guard led Mount Baker with 14 points and helped the Mounties outscore Nooksack Valley in the fourth period.
“We want to prove we’re here and can compete,” he said. “We’ll come back and get some wins. That first win will give us a big boost.”
Caleb Horsmon was the only other Mountie in double figures with 11 points and two 3-pointers. Fellow senior Draven Davis had 7 points and junior Landon Smith had 6 points on a pair of 3s.
For the Pioneers, freshman Brady Ackerman had 13 points and 18 rebounds, sophomore Joey Brown came off the bench to score 8 points, and senior Dawson Kimball had 6 points.
The Mounties’ next action is Thursday when they host Ferndale. The Pioneers are off until Friday when they travel to Meridian.
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.