Two months ago Squalicum traveled to Yakima’s SunDome for a Christmas break basketball tournament.
Before the team left they envisioned what it would be like to make a return trip for the Class 2A Hardwood Classic.
“Actually, before we went to the dome, we were like, ‘Oh, we’re going home. We are going to make this our home,” Storm guard Josiah Westbrook said.
The SunDome may not be Squalicum’s permanent residence, but the Storm will be more than happy to be making a return trip after holding on for a 68-59 Class 2A State Tournament regional round win against White River on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Puyallup High School.
“It’s great to be alive, team-wise,” Storm coach Dave Dickson said. “I’m just excited to share the experience with the fellas. We’re excited to keep the season rolling.”
Squalicum (18-7) will be heading to Yakima for the first time since the Storm settled for a second place state finish in 2011, losing to Clover Park 69-54 in the championship.
Westbrook led Squalicum with 24 points, Darious Powell scored 19 points, Damek Mitchell added 14 with four steals and Chris Paz finished with five points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
But the Storm’s Hardwood Classic bid wasn’t sealed until the game’s waning moments.
Squalicum was forced to fend off a hard-charging White River team late after the Storm squandered a 42-26 halftime lead.
The Hornets (11-14) took a 49-47 lead midway through the fourth quarter after using a 16-0 run out of halftime to tie the game in the third.
The Storm, sparked by Mitchell, rallied and played tough defense down the stretch while Harper Moore hit a key 3, followed by what arguably could have been the play of the game.
Leading 52-49 with 4:10 to go, Mitchell stole the ball from White River’s Alex Wallen on the elbow, put a move on Hornets guard Hunter Mills with a behind-the-back dribble in the open court and finished the fast break with an And-1 layup.
The bucket and subsequent free throw gave Squalicum a 55-49 advantage.
White River trimmed the deficit to 56-53 with 3:00 left, but Paz scored followed by a jumper by Powell, putting the Storm up 60-53 with a minute left.
“In those kind of games you have to have good guard play, and down the stretch, more likely than not, it’s going to win basketball games for you,” Dickson said, “and our guard play was tremendous down the stretch.”
Squalicum went cold in the third quarter, scoring only four points after posting 42 during the first two quarters, but the offensive struggles came after the Storm seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half.
The Hornets wouldn’t deviate from their 2-3 Zone, and Squalicum took advantage time and time again with eight first-half 3s. The Storm all together finished with nine.
Powell knocked down his fifth triple of the first half with 2:21 remaining in the second quarter, and Mitchell and Westbrook also scored from beyond the arc.
“That was fun right there,” Westbrook said. “Darious did not miss. It’s actually been like that the first half the past three games.”
White River was led by Wallen’s 19 points and five rebounds, and Dustin France added 16 in the loss.
A tournament draw will take place Sunday to determine who Squalicum will play in the Hardwood Classic’s first round Thursday, March 5.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
Squalicum 68, White River 59
Squalicum: Harper Moore 3, Noah Westerhoff 0, Josh Vail 2, Darious Powell 19, Damek Mitchell 14, Josiah Westbrook 24, Ben Tripp 0, Chris Paz 5. Totals: 22-47 15-24 68.
White River: Brandon Scheer 14, Hunter Mills 0, Trent Buchanan 3, Ryan Larsen 0, Cameron Cawley 5, Dustin France 16, Chad Durrant 0, Alex Wallen 19, Chris Marmon 0. Totals: 23-47 10-13 59.
3-point field goals — Squalicum: 9 (Powell 5); White River: 3 (Scheer 2). Rebounds — Squalicum: 29 (Paz 14); White River: 20 (Wallen 5). Assists — Squalicum: 6 (Westbrook 3); White River: 3 (three with 1). Fouls — Squalicum: 14; White River: 16. Turnovers — Squalicum: 10; White River: 13.