Forget their records. When the Blaine and Squalicum girls tangle you can expect a thriller, which is what they produced again Friday night, Dec. 16.
It was the Storm’s turn to win this year as Squalicum withstood another fourth-quarter Borderites comeback to notch its first Northwest Conference victory of the season, 51-46.
Like last season’s game between the two, the final score wasn’t decided until after the final buzzer. Except this time the Storm didn’t lose on a Blaine 3-pointer with no time remaining like they did last January.
“We kept saying (before the game), ‘Remember last year,’” said Squalicum junior Makayla Heaton, who led the Storm with 17 points. “It feels good to win this one. It will help us regain some confidence.”
Wins have been tough to come by for both teams, which are among the youngest in the NWC. The Storm, which raised its record to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in league, have only senior, but Callie McEachran was on crutches Friday with a sprained ankle.
Blaine, which fell to 0-4 overall and 0-3 in league, has twice as many freshmen on varsity (four) as they do seniors, neither of whom starts and one of whom is playing basketball for the first time.
Both first-year coaches said their teams were “works in progress,” but both found lots to praise after Friday’s contest.
“We’re still coming together,” said Squalicum’s Jenny Brown, who only suited up eight players due to sickness and injuries. “They’re learning the importance of team chemistry. And it’s nice to get a win. I told them in our last timeout, ‘We will win.’ They’re not used to winning.”
Blaine coach Gracie Phelps also said the close game was a learning experience the Borderites needed.
“I was really proud of them,” said Phelps, who a year ago was helping the Western Washington University women’s basketball team reach the national title game. “We are improving. We need to take what we learned this game and use it for the next game.”
Like last year, Squalicum came storming out Friday with 19 first-quarter points to take a double-digit lead. But like last year, the Borderites fought back, scoring 13 straight points to start the second quarter and take the lead.
Heaton, however, finished a 10-0 Squalicum run to end the first half with three straight layups.
The second half was tight throughout and when junior Jordyn Vezzetti hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game with four minutes remaining, Squalicum’s lead was down to one, 43-42.
But there would be no end-of-the-game heroics for Blaine this time. Junior Caitlyn Richardson scored on an inbounds play, Heaton made another layup, Vezzetti’s free throw was offset by a Richardson free throw, and when Heaton tossed in a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left, the Storm had put the game away with an 8-1 finish.
Vezzetti was fouled at the buzzer and made all three free throws while both teams watched from the sidelines to account for the final score.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Vezzetti, who scored all of Blaine’s 11 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 20 points. “I knew it would be tough. But we were pretty positive before the game. And it was a good, competitive game. We just came up a little short.”
Both Heaton and Vezzetti got help from their fellow juniors. Heaton’s backcourt mate, Mari Binning, had 16 points, including 10 in Squalicum’s big first quarter, and Richardson had 8 points. For Blaine, Deja Dube had 15 points including three 3-pointers, and freshman Aaliyah Bowman added 7 points.
Things won’t get any easier next week when Squalicum travels to Class 2A power Burlington-Edison on Monday and Blaine visits defending Class 1A state champion Lynden Christian on Wednesday.
Squalicum 51, Blaine 46
Squalicum 19 11 9 12—51
Blaine 8 16 11 11—46
Squalicum: Murphy-Kangas 2, Richardson 8, Sykes-Stewart 4, Heaton 17, Binning 16, Goering 4.
Blaine: Shields, Rea, Vezzetti 20, Bowman 7, Berkeley, Sandell, Ball 4, Dube 15, Daniels.
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.