Sports -- December 16, 2004

Published on Thu, Dec 16, 2004
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SPORTS
by Jack Kintner

Borderites drop a close one

Blaine dropped its first league match of the season last week on the road against undefeated Nooksack 35-32 in an overtime game that had everything but a Borderite victory at the end.

In the beginning it wasn’t close at all. Nooksack’s defense held Blaine to three points in the first quarter, but the maturing Borderite offense eventually resurrected itself to outscore the Pioneers 22-14 in the second half and nearly take the win on Joey Paciorek’s clutch bucket with four seconds left. Blaine fans roared their approval as the team gathered around head coach Dan Rucker during the final time out to be told how to play the last four ticks of the clock. Blaine’s first league win and Nooksack’s first defeat seemed assured.
Not.

Two big factors came into play in the closing seconds that favored Nooksack. The Pioneers are used to the heat. They came into the Blaine contest having won their season’s first two games by one point each in overtime, one of them against AAA Lynden. The second factor is Bill Kelly, acknowledged dean of Whatcom County basketball coaches, one-time Blaine girl’s coach and as crafty a tactician as you’re likely to find this side of the Pentagon.

“(Pioneer head coach Bill) Kelly’s been around so long,” said Blaine head coach Dan Rucker, “there’s a rumor that his first two point guards were Lewis and Clark.”

Kelly’s experience paid off this time in a big way. During the timeout huddle he assigned senior Pioneer guard Dan Lambert to take the ball out of bounds and throw it in to senior forward Kyle Mitchell, Nooksack’s top scorer that night, and then taught them a set play.
“We were looking for their in-bounds pass to be high,” said Rucker, “so we put Hondo (6'6" Ryan Goodwin) on Lambert.”

Lambert got the ball out of bounds to resume play under the Blaine basket and began looking for an opening to pass the ball to Mitchell. When he suddenly scampered to his left he drew Goodwin along with him and into a pick set by Mitchell that Goodwin neither expected nor saw. The referee whistled Goodwin for the foul, giving Nooksack a chance to win it at the free-throw line.

Pandemonium ensued as the noise level in the gym went from jet engine interior to H bomb. Goodwin looked back nonplussed at the Blaine bench with Mitchell still wrapped around his legs. Lambert looked at Kelly like a kid catching his first fish, as if to say “It worked!” The ref, his face the shade of an overheated radish, walked over to the scorer’s bench and said “That’s on two-zero (Goodwin), two shots.”

Blaine partisans booed and Nooksack Valley cheered the call loudly enough to start avalanches on Mt. Baker from the lonely little gym sitting way out in the middle of the Sumas Prairie.

Mitchell threw up a brick on his first shot but sank the second to tie the game at 30. Blaine, still with four seconds left, ran a screaming fast break to a sobered but determined Goodwin whose lay-up arced just over the basket as regulation play ended.

In the overtime the teams traded baskets but then with the score tied at 32, Mitchell charged into a stationary Goodwin in the paint, his histrionic lay-up almost going through the basket backwards as both players toppled to the floor.

The ref, who’d earlier cautioned Nooksack teacher Tim Scott on moving his head inappropriately while sitting at the scorer’s bench running the game clock, again whistled the foul on Goodwin even though this time Goodwin was the one who got run over.

That put the sure-handed Mitchell back on the freethrow line and Goodwin, with five fouls, out of the game. Mitchell sank them both and with another call going against Blaine, the Pioneers ended up with a three-point win.

Close games can seem to be decided by blown calls, but true or not that’s useless hindsight. Nooksack actually committed more fouls than Blaine but shot 68 per cent as opposed to Blaine’s 48 percent from the line. Blaine also had 21 turnovers, many of them unforced, against Nooksack’s 15. It was Blaine’s 10 for 27 shooting (37 percent) from the field, led by Joey Paciorek’s 18 points, that kept them in the game against Nooksack’s low 11 for 51 (21 percent) field goal shooting.
“I told my kids at practice,” Kelly said later, “that we can run a play like that (out of bounds play) against a talented player like Goodwin only once.” As if to remove any doubt about his opinion of the opposing center’s ability, Kelly added that his offense was keyed to Goodwin all night. “We needed to handle both Goodwin and Paciorek, so we focused on Goodwin and were able to keep him to four points,” Kelly said, “but still almost lost it in the end.”

The last time these two teams met Nooksack lost it in overtime at last spring’s district tournament in Mount Vernon. Blaine went to state, eventually finishing fifth, while the Pioneers went home.

The Borderites emerged from the contest 1-3 but with a lot to be proud of, having put together two of the best quarters of basketball they’ve played so far this year after a sub-par offensive output in the first half, when they trailed 16-8.

“I’m really pleased with that,” Rucker said later, “and people are stepping up. What we need to work on is putting four quarters together, that and keeping our turnovers in check.”

Blaine next plays today against Squalicum before heading to the Key Arena in Seattle Friday, December 17 to play Port Townsend. Both games are double-headers involving both the boys and girls varsity teams.

Wrestlers seek and find glory

Blaine’s wrestlers have arrived. In this the fifth year of the annual multi-team tournament Battle at the Border, Blaine ended its perennial doormat status in convincing fashion as it finished seventh out of 24 schools.

Four Blaine wrestlers medaled, including Nick Jordan, fourth place at 145 pounds, Blayne Brandenburger, third at 189, and two heavyweights, Corey Smith and Frank Neroni, second and third respectively.

“We had good production from top to bottom, which is why we ended up so well in the standings,” said coach Craig Foster, who also directed the event. “It’s a huge jump for us, since in the past we’ve struggled to get into the top 20,” he continued, “but we’re getting more solid across all the weights.”

The young team has only one senior, Matt Determan (160) who posted a 1-2 record for the tournament. New wrestler Jason Parker (103) went 2-2, losing his opener but pinning his second and third opponents before getting eliminated by Sedro Woolley’s Trevor Eaton. Ryan Pate, Blaine’s other 103-pounder, went 0-2.

Mike Broyan at 112 was 2-2 before falling to Issaquah’s Tyler Bodick. Jesse Kilthau, who went down to 119 for the tournament, was 2-2, losing to Cascade Everett’s Kiel Bates. Sam Abrams at 125 won three before being eliminated by Sedro Woolley’s Randy Nerston.

John Brady went 1-2 in the 130 pound class, and Derik Stremler (135) was 3-1 before running into the eventual fifth-place finisher, Everett’s Michael Irwin. Calvin Moore (140) went 2-2 and Marty Malabicki (160) was 1-2. Shane Hicks went 2-2 at 171 pounds, and Garrett Barrow (189) and Cody Dobbs (215) were both 0-2.

It’s as tough a tournament as can be found in high school wrestling. At one point during the finals Saturday night, three of the four wrestlers on the floor were reigning state champs and the fourth one was a fourth-place finisher.

Both Brandenburger and the two heavyweights ran into some top flight competition, Brandenburger losing only one match but that one to former Georgia state champion Dominique Small. Corey Smith steamrollered his way through the heavyweight class before meeting Steilacoom’s Alex King, a former fourth place finisher at state, in the finals. And Frank Neroni wrestled seven matches, finishing 6-1 to take third place.

“Blayne’s a real leader and a real leader on the team,” Foster said, pleased with the work his boys have been doing.

Sedro Woolley won the over-all title with 306.5 points, more than twice as many as the two second place teams, Oak Harbor and Cascade, who tied at 155. It’s also the first time that Heritage high school hasn’t won. Among county schools, Mt. Baker edged Blaine for sixth with 130.5 points to Blaine’s 113.5.