BELLINGHAM - Although he was perhaps the most powerful player on the court, it was fitting to see versatile fourth-year varsity player Blake Youtsey connect on a nothing-but-net 3-pointer for the game's most vital shot.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound power forward, who has been known to hit numerous 3s over the years, scored a game-high 21 points in Squalicum's 57-49 non-league victory over host Sehome on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
"The ball just came to me," Youtsey said of fellow senior Ben Garcia's alert cross-court pass with 50 seconds remaining and the Storm up 50-49 thanks to three Youtsey free throws in the preceding minute and 20 seconds. "Ben's just a great teammate."
After hitting his only 3-pointer of the game, Youtsey followed up with one of his game-high 13 rebounds. That set the stage for Garcia's pass to sophomore reserve Creighton Kaui for his only bucket of the game, with 18.4 seconds left. Youtsey then removed all doubt with two free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining.
The intense, foul-filled game - Squalicum had 21 and Sehome 22 - seemed to have the atmosphere of a playoff matchup instead of an early December test.
That's why both coaches felt they could take a lot away from the experience.
"I was trying to figure out who was the most experienced team," Storm coach Dave Dickson said with a grin, when asked about younger Sehome's 21-2 run, beginning with the last basket of the third quarter.
"Sehome showed tremendous character to make that run, and we showed tremendous character in righting the ship and going on to rally for the win," he said.
Squalicum (2-1), which had been up 45-28 late in the third quarter, suddenly found itself down 49-47 after Sehome freshman Marcus Montag made a three throw with 2:19 remaining. Youtsey's two free throws 12 seconds later tied it at 49-all and set up the thrilling finish.
Sehome coach A.J. LaBree agreed that was quite a rally for a team with only one senior, the ever-hustling, multi-talented Evan Miksovsky. Indeed, the Mariners (1-2) might well have won had Miksovsky not sat out more than a quarter's worth of minutes in foul trouble.
"We both learned a lot. I'm just glad this was non-league," said LaBree. "Squalicum's physicality and size made a difference. They play great defense."
Miksovsky was limited to 13 shots but made six, scoring six of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter. The other major contributor in the rally was sixth man Leif Anderson, a junior who made a pair of 3-pointers in each half to finish with 12 points as Sehome's only other double-figure scorer.
"It would be Youtsey," said Miksovsky, who has played with and against Squalicum's big guy for his entire basketball life. "He hit one like that that hurt us a couple of years ago. But I thought our guys showed a lot of improvement. It was impressive for our young team to have so much composure and come back from 17 points down with that (21-2) run. It was a fun game to play in."
Squalicum got a bad break when senior guard Alijah Garcia, a talented transfer from Meridian, sprained an ankle late in the first quarter after hitting a pair of 3s. But the Storm's bench of sophomores Josh Vail and Kaui, freshman Noah Westerhoff and senior Remington Wilcox combined for 11 points and limited their mistakes. Wilcox contributed five rebounds, seemingly all of them at important times.
During Sehome's 21-2 run, Elijah Andrushenko went 4 for 4 from the line, while Langston Engle, Montag and Miksovsky went a combined 8 for 10 from the stripe.
The game was tied at 19 when the Storm went on a 9-0 run as Miksovsky sat out the final 4:19 of the first half with three fouls. It was 28-19 at halftime, thanks to Ben Garcia's pro-length 3-pointer - he finished with three 3-pointers and wound up with 13 points - along with Vail's timely basket off a loose ball and his ensuing free throws, plus a 3-pointer from the corner by junior forward Clark Hazlett two seconds before the buzzer.
Dickson counted heavily on Hazlett's court savvy and intensity to help lead the defensive charge.
"That was the most fun I've had in basketball," said Hazlett, who has had plenty of fun in football as Squalicum's quarterback since his freshman year. "Blake's our guy. He leads us through moments in practice that help us push through."
Not to mention in games, too.
SQUALICUM 57, SEHOME 49
Squalicum 8 20 17 12- 57
Sehome 9 10 11 19- 49
Squalicum: Blake Youtsey 21, Ben Garcia 13, Clark Hazlett 5, Luke Weber 1, Alijah Garcia 6, Josh Vail 3, Remington Wilcox 2, Creighton Kaui 3, Noah Westerhoff 3. Team totals: 18-56 14-26 57.
Sehome: Evan Miksovsky 17, Langston Engle 2, Elijah Andrushenko 7, Duncan James 3, Tanner Clark 4, Leif Anderson 12, Marcus Montag 3, Sam Carroll 1. Team totals: 14-55 16-29 49.
3-ptg: B. Garcia 3, A. Garcia 2, Youtsey 1, Hazlett 1; Anderson 4, Miksovsky 1. Rebounds: Squalicum 38 (Youtsey 13); Sehome 30 (James 7). Assists: Squalicum 9 (B. Garcia 5); Sehome 7 (Clark 3). Fouls: Squalicum 21 (Weber), Sehome 22.