High School Basketball

Baker bench plays big role in Mountaineers’ first-round victory

Mount Baker’s Timothy Soares shoots over Sultan’s Ben Biddle, left, and Josiah Cotterill during the second quarter in the first round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament Monday, Feb. 8.
Mount Baker’s Timothy Soares shoots over Sultan’s Ben Biddle, left, and Josiah Cotterill during the second quarter in the first round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament Monday, Feb. 8. For The Bellingham Herald

It only seemed as though Mount Baker’s boys’ basketball bench was sensational in the opening round of the Class 1A Northwest Tournament.

It turns out, the Mountaineers don’t really have the usual bench. They have nine guys who play a whole lot of wild minutes, and they showed why in Baker’s 72-51 win over Sultan on Monday, Feb. 8.

“The bench is always going to be there. We start a different lineup in every game,” Baker coach Rob Gray said.

This time, Mason Bass, Keenan Gray, Jed Schleimer and Ethan Gates combined for 17 points in the first half off the bench as Baker raced to a 42-23 lead.

The starters were standouts, too. Tim Soares enthralled the crowd with three dunks on the way to 18 points, while Grant Balvanz returned from a hip injury to score 13. Junior muscleman T.J. Bass scored 10, the same total Mason Bass scored in reserve while hitting four of five shots, including a pair of 3-pointers.

16 Baskets hit by Mount Baker on 27 first-half attempts, including 10 for 14 shooting in a 23-point second quarter against Sultan.

UP NEXT

Baker (14-7) will meet King’s, the top seed from the Cascade Conference, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, in Shoreline. Monday’s win did not clinch anything for the Mountaineers. If they lose to King’s, Baker must win a loser-out game Friday to advance to the bi-district tournament.

PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

With less than 30 seconds left in the first half, Keenan Gray zipped a perfect pass to Soares for the 6-foot-10 star’s first dunk of the night. Schleimer followed with a steal and fed Gray for a layup and a 42-23 halftime bulge.

THE UNSUNG HERO

The dynamic Balvanz, a junior guard, had missed three consecutive games and most of a fourth with a hip injury, but looked better than ever with 13 points including two 3-pointers, four assists and three steals.

THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN …

Balvanz made a steal and layup for a 65-44 lead with 5:38 to play. Tyler Morris, who averages about 26 points for Sultan (7-14), scored five in the first half against Baker’s sticky zone and finished with 15, while getting off only 11 shots and making five, with two 3-pointers.

Our effort was good in the first half and our defense was a little bit suspect in the second half (during a 13-1 Turks run), but we beat a good Sultan team.”

Baker coach Rob Gray.   

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