Squalicum sophomore Damek Mitchell was excited over the first triple double of his basketball career, but he was even more enthusiastic about how well all his teammates contributed.
When coach Dave Dickson said, “We’ve all given up a little bit of individuality to form a team” — the Storm opened the season with talent but with Mitchell as the only returning starter — the steady point guard said he couldn’t agree more.
“It really was a great feeling to have everyone working so well together right from the start,” said Mitchell, who had game highs of 21 points, 10 steals, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Storm opened the Class 2A District 1 Tournament with a 69-54 win over Cedarcrest on Friday, Sept. 13.
Squalicum (15-6) next faces Northwest Conference champion Lynden (17-4) on Monday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon High School in the wake of the Lions’ 80-66 win over Sedro-Woolley.
It will be a quick test of improvement for the Storm, which lost 73-53 to the Lions in the last round of league play.
With Mitchell guiding a whirlwind first-half team-oriented show in the backcourt, the Storm gave a clinic of how eight players can work well on the way to a 39-19 halftime advantage.
“Everyone contributed,” Dickson said of one of his team‘s best opening halves.
For example, junior Josh Vail bounced off the bench — at least he seemed to bounce, so eager was he to get in the game — and soon hit a jumper from the side. Vail then scored on a nifty pass from Mitchell to give the Storm a 39-18 lead, capping a 14-0 run.
“Wow, Josh really brought the intensity off the bench, Josh and Ben Tripp,” said Mitchell, who had 10 points in the first half.
Tripp, a 6-4 senior post, contributed four points, four rebounds, a steal and plenty of defense after 6-6 starting post Chris Paz got into early foul trouble. Paz, however, had six rebounds in the first half and had four important third-quarter points as the Red Wolves played a solid third period.
Senior forward Harper Moore, whom Dickson agreed could be the league’s most underrated player, also came out on fire with four rebounds and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter. The gritty Moore finished with nine points on 4 for 6 shooting and six rebounds.
Then there were junior guard Josiah Westbrook and sophomore guard Darious Powell. Westbrook scored 10 points in the first half and wound up with 14 on 6 for 12 floor accuracy. Powell hit a 3 and a 2 in the first half, his only shots of the game, and passed for another hoop during the Storm’s momentum-building second-quarter run.
Sophomore guard Noah Westerhoff, another talented reserve, kept that key run going with a 3-pointer on his first shot.
The Storm, who won for the seventh time in their past nine games, displayed just how hungry they were for district success with a 19-6 first-half rebounding bulge, which absolutely delighted Dickson.
“We talked before the game about how important rebounding was, because that was an area where we thought we had a specific advantage,” the veteran coach said.
The Red Wolves (8-13) pulled within 54-42 with 4:55 to play — the closest they came in the second half — but Mitchell responded with four consecutive free throws, a 3-point play off a dazzling drive, and a pretty pass to Moore for a 63-45 lead with 2:10 left.
“Damek’s performance was phenomenal,” Dickson said. “He’s the consummate point guard.”
Mitchell, who said he has benefited immensely from working with assistant coach Aaron Dickson, had seven of his steals in the second half. That was key, since the Storm shot 15 for 25 in the first half but cooled to 8 for 27 in the last two quarters.
“He’s great to have around,” Mitchell said of Aaron Dickson, a former Storm standout in his first year assisting his father.
Was Dave Dickson surprised over his team’s late-season improvement? The surge included wins over Anacortes and Sehome.
“I’m pleased but I’m not surprised at our improvement,” he said with a fitting grin.
SQUALICUM 69, CEDARCREST 54
Cedarcrest: Chase Cardon 5, Alex Paulsen 9, Adam Davenport 4, Kyle Walsh 7, Robert Cha 13, Jake Kirschenmann 9, Anthony Dittore 2, Luke Stupfel 0, Michael Willis 3, Cameron Hammontree 2, Nik Reirson 0, Braden Stauffer 0. Totals: 22-54 3-5 54.
Squalicum: Damek Mitchell 21, Josiah Westbrook 14, Harper Moore 9, Chris Paz 4, Darious Powell 5, Ben Tripp 4, Noah Westerhoff 3, Josh Vail 4, Raja Sidhu 4, Connor Sage 1, Ben Wolters 0. Totals: 24-52 18-34 69.
3-point field goals: Cedarcrest 6 (Paulsen 3); Squalicum 3 (Moore, Powell, Westerhoff). Rebounds: Cedarcrest 20 (Kirschenmann 7); Squalicum 38 (Mitchell 10). Assists: Cedarcrest 6 (Walsh 3); Squalicum 12 (Mitchell 6). Fouls: Cedarcrest 20, Squalicum 10.