It’s often how you look at it, which was true with the Squalicum girls’ 56-32 victory over Bellingham on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 21.
While the two squads were playing for seeding in the upcoming Northwest District playoffs, it was more important for both the veteran Storm and the young Bayhawks to keep improving as the Northwest Conference regular winds down. Mission accomplished.
“We exceeded our goal,” said Squalicum coach Jenny Brown, whose team won its third straight to improve to 7-8 overall and 5-5 in the NWC. “Bellingham has gotten a lot better this season so we weren’t sure what to expect. We wanted to stay at least 14 up (throughout the game) and play all our players. And we wanted to show the grit it takes to win three in a row.”
The Storm did just that, especially in the first quarter. Their pressing defense limited Bellingham to one field goal in the period and thanks to senior Callie McEachran’s 3-pointers to start and end a 16-0 run, Squalicum had a 13-point lead it never relinquished.
“We’ve had a tough schedule in the beginning so it’s nice to get these wins (during the streak),” said Mari Binning, who had a game-high 18 points. When asked what’s led to the team’s improvement, the junior guard said with a smile, “Confidence and teamwork. And no drama … for the most part.”
There wasn’t a lot of drama Saturday as the Storm maintained its double-digit lead throughout. But even that wasn’t bad news for the Bayhawks, who played the Storm evenly after the first quarter until both teams emptied their benches.
“We have a lot of room for growth,” said Bellingham coach James Wolverton, whose squad fell to 4-13 overall and 2-10 in league. “But they’re not discouraged. It’ll take some time, but it’ll pay off down the road.”
With five freshmen and one sophomore on its eight-girl roster, perhaps the Bayhawk who should be the most discouraged is Ellie Wolverton. Yet the team’s lone senior, who is asked to do everything except sell pizza at the concession stand, is proving to be a positive leader both on the court and in the locker room.
“Win-wise it hasn’t been so great,” said Ellie, who had 14 points to lead the Bayhawks. “But we are so much better (than at the beginning of the season). Our freshmen are great. They love basketball and have a lot of passion. Now we just want to get some more wins.”
Ellie’s two 3-pointers were the only points Bellingham could muster in the first half against the aggressive Storm defense until freshman Mary Lockhart put in a pair of baskets in the last 33 seconds. Lockhart would finish with 8 points and junior Genevieve Blum added 7 points for Bellingham.
Binning led the Squalicum attack either with fastbreak layups, drives to the basket, or passes to open teammates. McEachran had the hot shooting hand with four 3-pointers and 14 points, junior guard Makayla Heaton had 10 points, and junior Caitlyn Richardson and sophomore Loretta Murphy-Kangas added 6 points each and lots of intensity.
Besides the obvious Northwest Conference stakes and bragging rights between the two Bellingham city rivals, coach Wolverton had another reason to beat the Storm. Having taught and coached at Squalicum before taking over at Bellingham, he had friendships with many Storm families including the McEachrans and Richardsons.
But now he and the Bayhawks will have to wait until the district tournament if they are to get another crack at the Storm. Next up for Bellingham is a home game with Meridian on Wednesday and a trip to Mount Baker on Friday.
The Storm are on the road against Oak Harbor on Tuesday and then host Lakewood on Thursday.
Squalicum 56, Bellingham 32
Squalicum 16 8 14 18—56
Bellingham 3 7 12 10—32
Squalicum: Murphy-Kangas 6, Richardson 6, Khosa, Stewart 2, Heaton 10, Binning 18, McEachran 14, Goering, Pethick, Paz.
Bellingham: Jude, Manning, Wolverton 14, Blum 7, Hanks 2, Holland, Evans, Lockhart 8, Hall, Hudson 1.
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.