LAUREL - The Blaine boys' basketball team sure picked the perfect time for its first winning streak of the season.
"The playoffs are a time when you want to be playing your best basketball," Borderites coach Shaun Pile said. "Slowly but surely, we've been seeing improvements."
The rest of the Northwest District has been taking notice, too.
Fueled by a career-high 30 points from freshman Josiah Westbrook and a 21-point, eight-rebound performance from senior Gabe Trump, Blaine grabbed a 68-61 victory on Friday, Feb. 8, at Meridian in an elimination game of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament, marking the first time this season the Borderites have won back-to-back games.
Meridian got 27 points from Edward Garcia, including 14 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough for the Trojans to come back and stave off elimination.
With the win, Blaine (6-17) not only moves into the 11:30 a.m. third-place game on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mountlake Terrace against Mount Baker in a rematch of a classic first-round shootout between the two schools, the Borderites also ensure that they will move on to the 1A tri-district tournament next week.
"That's a big, big deal," Westbrook said. "This is the first time Blaine has been this far in I don't know how long. Before the start of the season, we talked about changing the culture of Blaine basketball, and I would say this win shows that we're changing the culture."
If the Borderites continue to get the type of guard play they saw on Friday night from Westbrook and Trump, who knows how far that new culture can carry them?
Trump has been on a tear recently, as Friday night marked his fifth in six games surpassing 20 points. In fact, he's now scored 80 points in Blaine's three district playoff games, as his ability to penetrate and gutsy determination seem almost impossible to stop.
"Gabe is a great guy to play with," Westbrook said. "He likes to run. As a point guard I like to run, so it's great to have him to run with. I like to get out on the fast break and get him the ball. Plus he can shoot. If I see that he's open, I know I need to get him the ball."
Westbrook also has seen recent improvement in his game, as he's surpassed 20 points in two games during Blaine's postseason run, scoring 21 in the Borderites' 65-64 loss at Mount Baker on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
"I think his attitude the last couple of games has really changed," Pile said. "He's become more of a leader for us out on the court. He's taken the reins of this team, which is something you want your point guard to do."
On Friday, Westbrook's quickness allowed him to penetrate, his toughness allowed him to finish and his outside shot was downright dangerous.
And with Trump and Westbrook playing at the top of their respective games, Meridian was simply left searching for answers.
"I think they have the best body control of any two guards in the 1As right now," Meridian coach Shane Stacy said. "They have a tremendous ability to get to the line. They drive, give you a little hip or something to draw the foul, and are still able to get it up and in. We played five different defenses, and we couldn't find a way to stop them."
It started early, as Trump scored nine points in the first quarter and Westbrook had eight to help the Borderites build a 19-12 lead.
Westbrook added 11 more in the second to make it 36-26 at the half.
Meridian didn't go away quietly, though, as the Trojans used a 13-5 run over the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter to cut a 12-point lead to 52-48 with 5:30 to play after Garcia hit a 3-pointer.
But on the next possession, Westbrook drained a pair of free throws. Trump then stole the ball near midcourt and went in for a lay-up, before Westbrook made almost a carbon copy replay to quickly stretch the lead back out to 10 points.
"We made a little run, and I thought those back-to-back turnovers and easy buckets kind of killed the momentum," Stacy said.
Meridian did cut the lead to four again with 2:12 to play on a Blake Briones lay-up, but Blaine made enough free throws down the stretch to put the game away and move on.
Zach Rector provided a valuable third option for Blaine, as he scored 14 points, but it wasn't until Quame Finley, another freshman, hit a pair of free throws with 1:43 to play that anyone other than Westbrook, Trump or Rector scored for the Borderites. Westbrook had three steals in the game, while Trump had two.
In addition to Garcia's big night, Meridian got 12 points from Briones, while Spencer Blackburn pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.
Meridian wraps up its season with a 9-13 record overall, and will graduate five seniors off its district roster - Garcia, Trevin and Kelby Todd, Patrick Carlson and Chad Richter.
"The one thing I'm going to remember about our seniors is the desire to work hard they brought to this program," Stacy said. "They were gym rats - they loved to be in here. They were here in the spring, over the summer and always in the weight room. That kind of commitment rubs off on the younger guys. That's the legacy they left."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
BLAINE 68, MERIDIAN 61
Blaine 19 17 13 19 - 68
Meridian 12 14 14 21 - 61
Blaine: Josiah Westbrook 30, Sean Herrig 0, Cole Muder 0, Gabe Trump 21, Tas Scanlan 0, Ryan Wallen 0, Zach Rector 14, Quame Finley 3. Team totals: 21-46 25-39 68.
Meridian: Alijah Garcia 1, Trevin Todd 1, Jacob Plagerman 0, Kelby Todd 0, Edward Garcia 27, Patrick Carlson 6, Blake Briones 12, Chad Richter 4, Sam Chambers 0, Spencer Blackburn 4, Logan Carlson 6. Team totals: 18-57 22-35.
3-ptg: Blaine 2 (Westbrook, Rector), Meridian 3 (E. Garcia 3). Rebounds: Blaine 31 (Trump 8), Meridian 46 (Blackburn 11). Assists: Blaine 5 (Westbrook 2), Meridian 12 (A. Garcia 3, P. Carlson 3). Fouls: Blaine 20 (Scanlan, Rector fouled out), Meridian 29 (A. Garcia, K. Todd). Turnovers: Blaine 6, Meridian 15.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.