Perhaps Squalicum High School four-year football standout Ben Peterson, a basketball rookie as a senior starter, put it best in the wake of an emotional season-ending defeat.
“I just wasn’t ready to not be playing with these guys anymore,” said Peterson. “We really love each other.”
Faced with a much taller opponent, the Storm (18-5) fought with characteristic teamwork to the final second of their 66-63 loss to Bellevue (20-7) in an elimination game of the Class 3A state regionals Friday at Mount Vernon High School.
“I told the players I was very thankful to be able to coach them,” said Storm coach Dave Dickson. “I’m proud of their effort and how far we came. I’m sorry our seniors could not take the next step, but that doesn’t detract from their fantastic season.”
With the score tied 60-60 with two minutes remaining, it was fitting that the final points all came on 3-pointers, considering that Squalicum finished with 11 and Bellevue connected on nine.
Andrew Kenny, who led the Wolverines with 18 points and five 3s, hit a trey with 1:19 left. With a minute remaining, Storm point guard Damek Mitchell, who scored a game-high 23 points, hit a 3-pointer.
Storm freshman Devante Powell grabbed a rebound with 42 seconds left and the Storm milked the clock, only to see Mitchell double-teamed on a partially blocked shot.
Bellevue’s Jalen Love grabbed the rebound and passed to fellow guard Spencer Birkeland, who connected on a 3 from the corner with 3.8 seconds left. Squalicum could not get off a shot before the buzzer.
The Wolverines have four players 6-foot-4 or taller – all taller than anyone in Squalicum’s rotation. Bellevue shot better than 50 percent (25 for 47) compared to the Storm’s 23 for 54, and the Wolverines had a 26-15 rebound advantage.
All six of the Storm’s baskets in the third quarter were 3s – two apiece by Powell, who finished with 18 points, and junior Kendall Englhart, who scored 11, and one each by Mitchell and Peterson, who made his only two shots from the field.
But the Storm’s only 3 of the fourth quarter was the last-minute Mitchell shot – the final hoop of his high school career – that produced the all-too-temporary 63-63 tie.
“There aren’t words to describe what Damek meant to the program on and off the court,” Dickson said. “He got better every year (and Mitchell was a fine freshman) with hard work and attention to detail.”
Dickson added praise for the entire team.
“I felt like this was a group that responded to coaching and made it fun,” he said.
WENDLING PITCHES IN
In the sixth-man role he earned with so much dogged work, the team’s other senior football star-turned-basketball rookie, Jack Wendling, helped keep the Storm in it. He had six points, four rebounds and two steals.
He was understandably emotional because the affable big fellow said he, too, loved his teammates in his only basketball season.
“This was going to have to be my last game,” said Wendling, who explained that he has a commitment next week on the U.S. Junior National rugby team.
Bellevue will play in another elimination game on Wednesday in Tacoma for the right to enter the eight-team, double-elimination part of the state tournament.