MOUNT VERNON - There's a coarseness to Bellingham's girls' basketball team.
It's become more an identity than anything else - a gritty characteristic that helped the Red Raiders weather a 10-0 run by Lake Washington in the first four minutes of the third/fourth-place game in the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament on Friday, Feb. 21, at Mount Vernon High School.
But as Bellingham came to find out, staking a good team like the Kangaroos such an early lead is a mountain sometimes too difficult to climb.
Lake Washington defeated the Red Raiders 45-41, claiming third place in the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament and making the road slightly easier to getting to the Class 2A State Girls' Basketball Championships. Both teams earned bids into the regional round of state, with the draw still yet to be determined.
"We were a bit tentative early on. We got a couple shots blocked, and all of a sudden it makes you think we shouldn't go at them anymore," Bellingham coach Ed Wissing said. "Take the lesson out that you can't give up those early runs if you want to have a chance against some of the better teams, because after that first four minutes, we were obviously the better team, but points at the start of the game matter just as much as at the end."
The Red Raiders' pressure in the early part of the fourth quarter nearly unraveled a taller, stronger Lake Washington team that looked to be tearing at the seems.
Bellingham had all but erased the 10-point deficit it faced in the first, entering the fourth quarter down 35-32. A 3-pointer by Joelle Zamora - one of her game-high three from beyond the arc - brought the Red Raiders even with the Kangaroos at 35 apiece with 5:40 remaining.
After a free throw by Sydney Shepard lifted Lake Washington to a 36-35 lead, Bellingham's Carleen Syth hit one of her two baskets in the game on the next possession to give the Red Raiders their first lead of the game at 37-36.
"We want to go all 32 minutes," Bellingham senior guard Alyssa Porter said. "If they are pushing, we are going to push right back. Not in a bad way, but we're going to fight."
The Kangaroos' size, though, was a factor that could only be muffled for so long.
Carly Rataushk, who stands 6-foot-1 and scored a game-high 14 points, hit a turnaround jumper on the next possession to steal back the lead. Both Carter Nelson and Hanna Brender would later corral offensive rebounds that led to putbacks - Brender's being with less than two minutes remaining and giving Lake Washington a 42-39 lead.
A pull-up jumper by Porter, who finished with nine points, pulled Bellingham to within one, but a basket by Brender with 33 seconds remaining all but sealed the win.
"I knew it was going to be a fight all game," said Porter, who also added six rebounds, two assists and two steals. "We just kept trying to fight with them. Unfortunately they hit a couple shots that we didn't get."
Bellingham tested the Kangaroos' resolve, both on the glass and by forcing them to finish out the game, something Wissing thinks will benefit his girls moving forward to the regional round at state.
"You obviously prefer that you come out with wins because learning how to win is just as important as learning how to block out or learning good shot form," Wissing said. "There's definitely a silver lining even in a loss like this. ... We wouldn't have been in that position had the team not battled as hard as they had to come back."
Zamora and Ashley Spink finished with a team-high 10 points despite the Red Raiders only shooting 16 of 57 from the field. That proved to be a testament to Lake Washington's size on defense, something that Bellingham struggled adapting to early on as Rataushk had four blocks through the first 10 minutes of play.
Not that Wissing or his team were using there apparent lack of size as a crutch to defend the loss.
"We're not going to grow six inches before next Friday," Wissing said. "You can never use the size as an excuse, and I don't think any of our girls are saying, 'It's not fair. They are taller than we are.'"
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
LAKE WASHINGTON 45, BELLINGHAM 41
LW 12 13 10 10 - 45
Bellingham 10 9 13 9 - 41
Away: Johnna Jahnke 4, Lizzie Giovicchini 0, Sydney Shepard 5, Madison Shepard 3, Carly Rataushk 14, Hanna Brender 11, Carter Nelson 2, Rebecca Francker 3. Team totals: 18-48 6-11 45.
Bellingham: Carleen Syth 4, Jenn Paul 2, Ashley Spink 10, Abigail McLellan 0, Sarabeth Pemble 0, Alicia Romero 3, Michaela Knutson 3, Joelle Zamora 10, Alyssa Porter 32. Team totals: 16-57 4-10 41.
3-ptg: Lake Washington 3 (Jahnke, Giovicchini, Francker 1), Bellingham 5 (Zamora 3). Rebounds: Lake Washington 36 (Sydney Shepard 9), Bellingham 26 (Porter 7). Assists: Lake Washington 8 (Rataushk 3), Bellingham 6 (Porter, McLellan 2). Fouls: Lake Washington 14 (NA), Bellingham 16 (Zamora). Turnovers: Lake Washington 16, Bellingham 16.