The top-ranked and undefeated Lynden Christian boys basketball team takes its first step in defending its Class 1A state title on Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Lyncs take on Connell in a state regional game at Mount Vernon High School.
It’ll be a familiar situation for the Lyncs (23-0), who have been to state six of the past seven years, reaching the championship game three times and taking two state titles.
But it’ll be new territory for the Eagles (19-4), who have only one state appearance (a loss) in the past 10 years. In fact, since 1996, Connell has only placed once at state.
For previews of all the state regional games involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.
Fortunately for Connell, the Eagles got a break when two teams seeded above them did not qualify for state. So while the Eagles were No.10 in the state’s RPI ratings, they moved up to the eighth seed. The good news for them is that win or lose Saturday, they’ll be headed for Yakima next week.
Because the winner of Saturday’s regional game will advance directly to the state quarterfinals in the SunDome on Thursday, Feb. 28. The loser will still earn a trip to Yakima, but will have to play a loser-out contest on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Here’s a look at the two teams:
Connell scouting report: The Eagles are coached by Devin O’Brien, son of former Ephrata coach Marty O’Brien, which means Connell will be well-prepared. Senior Silas Chase is the “glue that makes them good,” according to LC coach Roger DeBoer, but the Eagles are rugged, physical and well-balanced, much like you’d expect from a football school like Connell. After winning the South Central Athletic Conference East Division, Connell will be looking to bounce back from a 35-point loss in the district title game to West Division champion Zillah.
Lynden Christian scouting report: The Lyncs are led by their all-state guard, Cole Bajema, who is averaging 24 points a game and can take over a game against anybody. But LC is best when they don’t need Bajema to take over. They won the Northwest Conference, District 1 tournament and District 1/2 title by playing aggressive defense and getting inside points from Cristian Colwell and Cole Langstraat, and 3-point shooting from Andrew DeVries and Luke Bos.
LC coach Roger DeBoer: “We both play a similar style. What it will come down to is who is winning the rebounding and on defense.”
Game outlook: On paper, this might be a mismatch … and it may turn out that way. But Connell will try to keep it low scoring and and try to stop Bajema — which, of course, nobody has done this year. That means it’ll be another opportunity for the Lyncs’ other scorers to come through, something they did all last year at state.
CLASS 1A BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
#9 Royal (18-5) vs. #15 Cascade Christian (14-10) at Ellensburg High School, 8 p.m. (loser out)
#2 La Center (21-2) vs. #7 Deer Park (20-2) at Battle Ground High School, 10 a.m.
#12 Bellevue Christian (15-7) vs. #13 Seton Catholic (18-6) at Issaquah High School, noon (loser out)
#1 Lynden Christian (23-0) vs. #8 Connell (19-4) at Mount Vernon High School, 2 p.m.
#11 King’s Way Christian (15-8) vs. #14 Overlake (15-6) at Battle Ground High School, 4 p.m. (loser out)
#3 Zillah (22-1) vs. #6 Cashmere (17-5) at Davis High School, 6 p.m.
#4 Okanogan (18-5) vs. #5 Seattle Academy (18-3) at Wenatchee, 6 p.m.
#10 King’s (18-5) vs. #16 Naches Valley (15-8) at Everett Community College, 6 p.m. (loser out)
(Full schedule and bracket at nwcathletics.com)
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.