LYNDEN - First-year Blaine girls' basketball coach Ryan Pike has plenty of evidence to back his contention that the Borderites have the state's best Class 1A starting lineup.
Blaine's "Iron Five" 54, top-ranked Class 2A team White River 51.
That's right, Blaine (6-4) upended the Hornets (8-2) - who helped kill Blaine's state trophy dream last season - on a wild and highly entertaining final night of the Cloud 9 Sports Lynden Christmas Classic late Friday, Dec. 28, at Lynden Christian.
"I've said before that I think we have the best starting five in the state," said Pike, who used his starters for 150 of the 160 available minutes while playing ferocious man-to-man defense.
That's right, Blaine played man-to-man - and played it as though the normally zone-oriented Borderites were thoroughly accustomed to playing 150 minutes of such a challenge against a top-ranked team.
"I just figured as well as White River (which shuttled nine players) shoots the 3, that's what we'd have to do," said Pike, who saw his team make 10 steals. "The kids are in shape to do that. They don't look tired to me."
Just say Blaine played at the peak of Pike's expectations, and their own, too.
"That's right, I'd love to play another quarter right now," said junior post Alexis McElwain.
McElwain said she had more than enough motivation for the Borderites, who came in with four losses to teams that came into Saturday's action with a combined 31-3 record - Ferndale, Lynden Christian, Nooksack Valley and, in the Classic one day earlier, Cascade Christian.
"We really, really wanted revenge," said McElwain, who played downright inspirational. "They beat us in our first game at (Class 2A) state last year (Blaine is now 1A). And it was not close - they beat us a lot to not a lot."
On Friday, Blaine not only shot 18 for 44 from the field (40.9 percent), but out-rebounded the taller and far more experienced Hornets 34-26 as McElwain grabbed 11, sophomore guard Mandy Hayes 8 and junior forward Olivia Olason 7.
"That was definitely Mandy's best game of the season," said McElwain of the dynamic 5-foot-9 backcourt prospect. Hayes led the Borderites with a season-high 19 points, with 15 in the second half and 9 in the fourth quarter.
Blaine built leads of up to 13 points - at 34-21 in the third quarter and 42-29 at the start of the fourth quarter - but White River was too good and too talented to give up easily.
But Hayes was at her best in the final minute, scoring on a daring drive for a 51-46 lead with 36 seconds remaining. Hayes then grabbed a vital rebound and made two free throws with 53-46 with 23 seconds left.
"We really wanted to show them we could play," Blaine sophomore Breanna Chau said. "We shot 13 percent in that game."
White River standout Amanda Lance, a polished sophomore guard, scored on a rebound with 6 seconds remaining and on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But Hayes' free throw with 4.3 seconds remaining made it 54-48 and left no doubt.
Pike could not have asked for better scoring balance. Sophomore forward Taylor V'Dovec, who played determined defense inside, had 11 points (with 5 for 5 from the line) while McElwain scored 9, Olason 7, and Chau 4. Junior guard Rhiana Breedlove - who played nine extremely valuable minutes with short stints at the end of the second, third and fourth quarters - ultimately made a huge difference by hitting on her only two field goal attempts, both shortly before halftime.
Olason and V'Dovec both shot 3 for 6 from the field, taking only high-percentage efforts. McElwain was 3 for 7 and Hayes was 6 for 18, including a pair of 3s.
"We played great defense and got great help from each other all night," said McElwain, who fouled out with 1:38 remaining defending Lance, who converted a 3-point play to cut Blaine's lead to 48-43. But Olason followed with a free throw, helping to keep Blaine in front when White River's Kristin Sturdivan hit her third 3-pointer.
Then it was time for Hayes and her speed to take over.
So intense was the second half, there were 24 total fouls in those 16 minutes alone.
White River's primary standouts, Kennedy Hobert and Lance, combined for 34 points, but the Borderites built belief and momentum by holding the pair to 11 points before halftime.
Blaine committed only 15 turnovers, a respectable total against an outstanding team with three solid seniors.
BLAINE 54, WHITE RIVER 51
Blaine 9 14 18 13 - 54
White River 12 7 10 22 - 51
Blaine: Mandy Hayes 19, Alexis McElwain 9, Taylor V'Dovec 11, Olivia Olason 7, Breanna Chau 4, Rhiana Breedlove 4, Nicole Ortega 0. Totals: 18-44 15-23 54.
White River: Kennedy Hobert 14, Amanda Lance 20, Kristin Sturdivan 9, Maci Goethals 3, Taylor Hillius 3, Darian Gore 2, Ashley Mills 0, Sutton Mills 0, Katie Durrant 0, Kathryn Timmerman 0.
3-pointers: Blaine 3 (Hayes 2), White River 8 (Lance, Sturdivan 3). Rebounds: Blaine 34 (McElwain 11), White River 26 (Hobert 10).Assists: Blaine 5 (Hayes 2); White River 11 (Lance, S. Mills 3). Fouls: Blaine 15, White River 21. Turnovers: Blaine 15, White River 13.