High School Basketball

Mitchell praises Squalicum teammates after victory

For The Bellingham Herald

Fourth-year standout point guard Damek Mitchell, a veritable coach on the court, had no trouble pointing out what excited him most as the Squalicum boys advanced to the Class 3A state regionals.

Mitchell put an early coup de grace on what was really a 30-point win with three consecutive 3-pointers midway through the third period of Squalicum’s 60-44 win over Everett in a winner-to-state 3A Northwest District Tournament game at Jackson High.

Mitchell’s three 3s put the Storm up 53-24, but that wasn’t what most excited Mitchell, who finished with game highs of 27 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and four steals for the whirlwind Storm (18-4).

First, he loved seeing unheralded senior forward Jacob Johnson take four passes from him and Ben Peterson for four baskets without a miss in the first quarter. Johnson finished with 10 points, a season highlight for the Storm guy who usually gets no glory.

Then, when Mitchell was on the court, he couldn’t help but be obviously thrilled to see basketball rookie Jack Wendling make a steal and quick pass to fellow football star Peterson, also a hoops newcomer as a senior. Peterson in turn unselfishly passed to senior reserve Taylor Lenderman for a crowd-pleasing basket.

“I just loved that play!” Mitchell shouted. “I felt that was great unselfish teamwork.”

Indeed, that play typified the Storm’s team-oriented approach.

A LOUD SONG

In a postgame scene straight out of a 1930s football film, Squalicum’s players and cheerleaders and some wildly excited students sang a school song at the top of their lungs as the Storm band led the way with a lively performance.

And it wasn’t the least bit corny.

“I loved that,” said Mitchell, who had a lot to love on a night he shot 11 for 22 in a fast-paced matchup with the Seagulls (12-11).

‘TOUGH AND GRITTY’

“We’re a tough and gritty team,” said Mitchell, who will make his third consecutive trip to state. “We’re not the most talented team, but we have the most heart.”

Kendall Engelhart, a junior forward, and freshman guard Devante Powell exemplified that. Often scoring standouts, they combined for nine points and did most of their effective work on defense to help Squalicum mount a 54-24 advantage after three quarters. 

WHAT IT MEANS

“We’ll be number 9,” Squalicum coach Dave Dickson said, referring to the Storm’s status in the new use of the Ratings Performance Index, which uses regular-season factors to seed matchups.

That means the Storm will play the No. 16 team in a loser-out regional game either Feb. 24 or 25. The site and time will be announced Sunday.

If Squalicum wins, the Storm will advance to a March 1 loser-out game at the Tacoma Dome against one of the four losers of the No. 1 through No. 8 seeding games in the regionals.

And if the Storm survives that game, they will advance to the three-day, eight-team, double-elimination portion of the tournament March 2-4, with several trophies at stake.

On to state

Whatcom County basketball teams advancing to the regional round of the state basketball tournament:

▪ Class 3A boys: Squalicum

▪ Class 2A boys: Lynden

▪ Class 2A girls: Lynden

▪ Class 1A boys: Lynden Christian

▪ Class 1A girls: Lynden Christian

▪ Class 1A girls: Mount Baker

▪ Class 1A girls: Meridian

▪ Class 1B boys: Lummi

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