DEMING - Before the first round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Blaine boys' basketball team had not appeared in a postseason game since 2008. The only player still around from Mount Baker's run to a fifth-place finish at the 2010 Class 2A State Tournament is Taylor Engels, who is now a volunteer assistant.
But it's now safe to say both the Borderites and Mountaineers are playoff battle tested.
In a game that featured more counterpunches than a prize fight, Reuben Murashov delivered what proved to be the knockout blow when he drove to the right side of the key and laid the ball in for the winning points in Mount Baker's 65-64 victory.
Murashov's basket with 13.7 seconds to play not only represented the 12th lead change in a game that also featured four ties, it capped off the junior's 26-point, seven-rebound night in his first playoff game. It also spoiled a 32-point performance from Blaine's Gabe Trump in his first playoff action.
"I could tell it was a little different from the crowd," Murashov said. "The crowd was really ringing in my ears, and you could just feel the playoff intensity."
The intensity is only going to pick up from here.
Mount Baker (7-14) moves on to the tournament semifinals on Thursday, Feb. 7, when it will travel to King's, which beat Friday Harbor 58-31 in other first-round action. Blaine (4-17) will try to fight off elimination on Thursday, when it hosts the Wolverines.
The Mountaineers and Borderites each will have a tough time topping their efforts from Tuesday, when playoff inexperience showed through at times but was usually overshadowed by gritty determination.
Murashov's winning shot actually atoned for a decision he admitted was poor two possessions earlier when he got caught up in the moment with Mount Baker holding a 63-60 lead in the final minute.
"With 30 seconds on the shot clock, I told them we should hold on to the ball and eat a little time," Mount Baker coach Rob Gray said. "He didn't listen to me."
Instead, when Murashov got the ball in the left corner, he launched a 3-pointer.
"It was something I shouldn't have done," Murashov said. "I got the ball, and I thought I was open. I took the 3. I thought I might have been bumped a little on the shot, but I probably shouldn't have taken it. ... I nearly threw it away."
The long shot bounced off the rim and into the hands of Blaine's Josiah Westbrook just to the left of the top of the key. Westbrook controlled the long rebound, avoided one Blaine defender and sprinted to the other end to cut Mount Baker's lead to one, 63-62, with 55 seconds to play.
After another Murashov miss, Westbrook followed his own miss at the other end and found Ryan Wallen all alone on the left side of the Mountaineers defense for another layup to give Blaine a 64-63 lead with 38 seconds to play.
But that's when Murashov atoned for his miscue.
"I got the ball on the right side and realized there was nobody between me and the basket, so I took it," Murashov said. "I wasn't going to let anyone stop me."
He not only connected, but was fouled in the process. Though he missed the free throw, he had gotten Mount Baker within one defensive stop of picking up the win.
Blaine brought the ball into the offensive zone and called a timeout with 5.6 seconds to play.
"We were kind of fortunate that they called timeout, because it gave us a chance to switch into our zone," Gray said. "We knew they were going to set the high pick-and-roll for him (Westbrook), and that gave us a chance to get in the right position with our zone."
The Borderites ran exactly what Mount Baker was expecting, and the Mountaineers forced Westbrook out wide to the right side. He tried driving, but was unable to get off a shot and lost the ball out of bounds as time expired.
"Mount Baker did a good job of switching up, and we just didn't get the shot we were looking for," Blaine coach Shaun Pile said.
Westbrook's 21 points marked a season high for him, and he also added six rebounds, three steals and a team-high two assists and definitely was at his best when he was attacking the basket.
But the engine that made Blaine go throughout the night was Trump, who at times seemed like he couldn't miss. The senior, who also logged four assists and four steals, hit six 3-pointers. Half of them came in the fourth quarter, as the Borderites continually refused to go away every time it appeared Mount Baker might open up an advantage.
"That kid has come so far, and he has put in so much hard work to get there," Pile said. "I really hope he gets to show what he can do at the next level, because I know that is something he really wants."
Like Trump, Murashov had an able wing man, as Ty Munsell scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds. Dalton Munsell added seven points, while Colton Ranson turned his first varsity action into two steals and a pair of second-quarter free throws.
"After we settled down, I think we started to get a good feel what it takes to be successful in the playoffs," Gray said. "We had a lot of guys step up and play big roles for us tonight."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
MOUNT BAKER 65, BLAINE 64
Blaine 16 11 13 24 - 64
Mount Baker 12 15 14 24 - 65
Blaine: Josiah Westbrook 21, Jericho Probadora 0, Cole Muder 0, Ivan Sanchez 0, Gabe Trump 32, Tas Scanlan 0, Ryan Wallen 4, Zach Rector 7, James Fakkema 0. Team totals: 22-48 13-23 64.
Mount Baker: Isaac Gilmore 2, Reuben Murashov 26, Zan Roman 5, Ty Munsell 14, Seth Bass 5, Harrison Whitmyre 0, Conner Brandland 0, Colton Ranson 2, Josh Barbo 0, Dalton Munsell 7, Andrew Zender 4. Team totals: 23-51 13-17 65.
3-ptg: Blaine 7 (Trump 6), Mount Baker 6 (Murashov 2, T. Munsell 2). Rebounds: Blaine 32 (Westbrook 6, Rector 6), Mount Baker 30 (Murashov 7). Assists: Blaine 6 (Westbrook 2), Mount Baker 14 (Roman 4). Fouls: Blaine 18, Mount Baker 18. Turnovers: Blaine 15, Mount Baker 16.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.