CHEHALIS - Blaine won't win the Class 1A girls' state basketball championship this season, but the young Borderites played like state champions during much of the single-game regional round of the state tournament.
Although their tears showed they weren't in the mood for any talk of a moral victory, Blaine's 60-55 overtime loss to undefeated Castle Rock on Friday, Feb. 22, at W.F. West High School displayed state championship potential.
"Definitely," said Blaine coach Ryan Pike when asked if his team could contend for a state title next year. "I thought we could win it this year. If you don't think you can win, there's no point in going out there."
His girls obviously thought they could win everything this year, and they played like it in a thrilling elimination game of startling contrasts.
Blaine (20-7) used only its five starters - three sophomores and two juniors - until the final seconds of overtime against Castle Rock (22-0). The Rockets' starters - four of them seniors - also started on the unbeaten state championship volleyball team.
But Pike knows Blaine's girls feel like they're seniors at heart, and they showed it with a season scoring high against the Rockets, who had allowed only one team to score more than 42 points.
"We just needed another overtime," said Blaine junior Alexis McElwain. "I am so proud of how the girls came out and gave it their all. We just needed four more minutes."
Macee Utecht's three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter helped the Rockets rally from a 43-36 deficit after three quarters to a 53-49 lead with 1:38 remaining in regulation.
At that point, Blaine showed almost unbelievable poise under pressure against girls who haven't lost in more than 50 contests this school year.
Taylor V'Dovec scored on an outside shot with 1:25 left and point guard Breanna Chau tied it at 53-all with two free throws with 46 seconds left. The teams traded turnovers to set up the overtime.
Castle Rock displayed its experience with seven points in the extra session while the Borderites - who went 5-2 in the postseason - scored on a layup by McElwain off a pinpoint pass from Chau.
McElwain's score cut the Rockets' lead to 58-55 with 21 seconds remaining, but Utecht's free throw with 8.5 seconds remaining and Maddi Seidl's free throw with 4.9 seconds left doomed the Borderites.
"This was a good one," said Pike, whose girls ultimately paid the price for 18 turnovers compared to 11 for the more experienced Rockets, who finished fifth at state last basketball season. "We have girls who can play. If you asked them, they'd go out right now and play Castle Rock again."
"I think we'd win," she said.
Blaine displayed its potential with two brilliant stretches - a 10-0 second-quarter run and 7 for 10 shooting from the field in the third quarter - to tantalize a goodly number of fans who made the 200-mile trip.
Chau, shooting 6 for 11 overall and 3 for 7 from 3-point range, turned in one of her finest efforts with team highs of 17 points and four assists.
McElwain also shot 6 for 11 from the field and 3 for 3 from the line for 15 points and led Blaine with 10 rebounds. V'Dovec had 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Mandy Hayes contributed 11 points and three steals and Olivia Olason grabbed eight rebounds and was whistled for only one foul despite playing relentless defense.
Castle Rock's trio of senior stars, however, would not be denied. Tierney Uhlenkott, Utecht and Seidl came in with 873 points combined, and they scored 52 of the Rockets' 60 points, including 22 by Utecht and 21 by Uhlenkott. Seidl turned in game highs of 12 rebounds and five assists.
It was only Castle Rock's fifth game all season decided by fewer than 10 points.
When Pike, a rookie head coach, was asked before the game what has pleased him most about the season, he had a quick answer.
"The cohesiveness of the girls. They're a lot of fun to coach and they all get along," he said. "They have always wanted to play hard no matter who the coach is."
CASTLE ROCK 60, BLAINE 55 (OT)
Blaine 13 15 15 10 2 - 55
Castle Rock 12 12 12 17 7 - 60
Blaine: Breanna Chau 17, Alexis McElwain 15, Taylor V'Dovec 12, Mandy Hayes 11, Olivia Olason 0, Rhiana Breedlove 0. Team totals: 21-45 10-12 55.
Castle Rock: Maddi Seidl 9, Kenzie Dahl 4, Nicole Seidl 4, Macee Utecht 22, Tierney Uhlenkott 21, Mattie Williquette 0. Team totals: 22-61 11-17 60.
3-ptg: Blaine 3 (Chau 3); Castle Rock 5 (Utecht 3). Rebounds: Blaine 34 (McElwain 10); Castle Rock 34 (M. Seidl 12). Assists: Blaine 11 (Chau 4, V'Dovec 4); Castle Rock 17 (M. Seidl 5). Fouls: Blaine 16, Castle Rock 13. Turnovers: Blaine 18, Castle Rock 11.