The Blaine girls basketball team is elite, officially.
Blaine fans might have known it all along, but with their win over Woodland in the regional round of the state tournament, the Borderites sealed their status as one of the top eight teams – the Elite Eight – in 1A statewide.
In a battle of defensive prowess, the Borderites handed Woodland its first loss this season, winning 39–36 at a neutral site in
Longview on March 1. The win sends Blaine to the Hardwood Classic for the first time since 2012, when they went to the 2A state tournament.
Head coach Ryan Pike described the scene on the court after the final buzzer against Woodland as pure joy for the Borderites.
“The girls worked hard all season to get where they are, and they felt like it all paid off in that moment,” Pike said. “It was really great to see.”
The Woodland Beavers’ defense was a substantial obstacle for the Borderites. They were undefeated until facing Blaine, and had a reputation for playing at a slow pace and putting up a rock-solid defense.
Pike said the Borderites at first tried to speed the game up to the level they’re used to, moving quickly between zones and taking fast shots. That strategy led to missed shots and a 15–12 deficit on the scoreboard after the first quarter.
“We missed some open shots. It could have been the stage,” Pike said. The Borderites were better on defense, although in the first half Woodland scored six three-pointers.
Blaine shored up its perimeter defense in the second half. The team also got used to the slower game pace. Fortunately, Pike said, slowing down is nothing new to the Borderites.
“We played a slower game last year. The beauty of our team is that we can adapt to whatever pace our opponent is playing at,” he said.
Throughout the game, and on both sides of the court, points were hard to come by. Even still, the Borderites had moments of brilliance on offense. Taylor V’Dovec led the team with 17 points, and Breanna Chau scored a few key three-pointers in the first half.
“[Chau] was hitting big shots for us in the first half that really kept us in the game,” Pike said. Chau scored 11 points overall
and Mandy Hayes scored seven, despite sitting out much of the first half due to foul trouble.
Woodland’s 1–3–1 zone defense proved troublesome for Blaine, but Blaine’s defense carried the day, especially during the tense final minutes of the game. With four minutes to go, the Borderites had a tenuous 37–34 lead.
“We really wanted an extra basket or two, but we couldn’t put the ball in the hole. Luckily we kept getting stops on defense,” Pike said. “It was a whole-team effort down the stretch.”
For the final 11 minutes, the Beavers didn’t score a single field goal. Hayes executed a crucial steal late in the game, and Chau took a charge to draw a foul and force a turnover. With 2.9 seconds to go, V’Dovec blocked a shot that bounced off an opponent’s leg and the Borderites recovered. That was enough to seal the win.
“Our defense is what won us the game,” Pike said. “It’s tough to play someone who’s undefeated. They have a ton of confidence and it’s hard to overcome that. It’s just a battle for 32 minutes, and were able to come out strong, carry it through the whole game and get the win.”
The site of the regional game was 237 miles from Blaine, but a loyal contingent of Blaine fans made the trip to support the Borderites. “It was a pretty good crowd for how far away it was,” Pike said. “The numbers weren’t huge but the voices were loud. There were some ‘defense’ chants that got us going.”
The win sends the Borderites to the Yakima Valley SunDome, where they will face the Mabton Vikings to see who has what it
takes to keep their tournament dreams alive. The Vikings have a 10–3 record in the South Central Athletic Conference and are 18–5 overall. The game against Mabton will likely be a radical departure from the Woodland game.
“They’re a fast-paced team,” Pike said. “They like to press and run the whole game, pushing up and down the court and shooting as fast as possible.”
Many of the Borderites are state tournament veterans. V’Dovec, Hayes, Chau and McElwain all saw playing time in the state tournament two years ago. However, since the girls were freshmen and sophomores at the time, Pike said this year’s tournament will be a fresh experience for everyone.
“If we can keep [Mabton] out of the paint and force them to shoot contested three-pointers, I think we’ll be really successful,” Pike said.
The other teams in the state tournament are: Lynden Christian, Kings, Okanogan, Kalama, Cashmere and Granger.
The game against Mabton begins at 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 6 in the Yakima Valley SunDome, 1301 S. Fair Avenue, Yakima.