Considering all that the Lynden boys basketball team has accomplished this year, including now winning the Class 2A District 1/2 championship, it’s easy to forget how inexperienced the Lions are.
How inexperienced? Well, their veteran leader had to teach them how to cut down the nets.
“They were all stressed,” said senior Brock Heppner with a laugh after the Lions’ hard-fought 62-52 victory over Lakewood in the district title game Saturday night, Feb. 22. “I told them, ‘Just cut the loops.’”
Next up for top-ranked Lynden is the regional round of the state playoffs. The Lions will host the No.8-ranked team — probably at Mount Vernon High School — either Friday or next Saturday, Feb. 29. The regional schedule will be finalized and released sometime Sunday.
The district title, a 21-2 record and the No.1 ranking were all thought to be out of reach after the two-time defending state champions graduated all their starters and 10 of their 12 players last season.
But those other two players have had a lot to do with the great season and the cutting down of the nets Saturday.
Heppner, a 6-foot-1 forward who plays a half-foot taller, and junior center Liam Hanenburg, who at 6-foot-11 actually was almost a foot taller than the Lakewood starters, combined for 39 points and dominated the inside against the smaller Cougars.
“They’re tough,” Lynden coach Brian Roper said of the 15th-ranked Cougars (14-9), who knocked off previously No.1 Burlington-Edison in the semifinals. “We wanted to get the ball inside and when we did, we were successful.”
Check out the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page for more photos from Saturday’s game.
Heppner was scoreless in the opening quarter when the Lions actually trailed. But he took over with 12 of his game-high 22 points in the second quarter as Lynden took control of the game.
Hanenburg would finish with 17 points, sophomore guard Jordan Medcalf added 9 points and junior forward Clay Kochuten had 7 points.
The Lions defense proved to be a big difference, limiting Lakewood star guard Alex Jensen to 11 points, and holding the Cougars to five points in the third quarter.
Even when Lakewood’s frenzied rally in the final minutes got the lead under 10, Lynden’s no-longer-inexperienced squad played like veterans and never panicked.
“We knew we could get any shot we wanted if we were just patient,” said Hanenburg.
And when Hanenburg was forced to the bench with foul trouble in the second half, senior Harley Vandenberg came in to protect the rim and nab some rebounds.
“It feels great,” said Vandenberg, who along with most his teammates was playing on the junior varsity last year. “I can’t wait for state.”
Hanenburg agreed: “This (the district title) is what we’ve worked for. But we’re not done yet. This isn’t our final destination.”
That would be Yakima, where the Class 2A state tournament will be held. Win or lose in the regional round next weekend, the Lions are assured of going back to the SunDome to defend their crown.
“Winning district is cool,” said Heppner. “But you want the net at the end of the season.”
And cutting down nets is something these young Lions are getting used to.
Lynden 62, Lakewood 52
Lakewood 16 11 5 20—52
Lynden 13 21 12 16—62
Lakewood: Morgan Stacey 12, Jackson Schultz 6, Kaiden Harrison, Jared Taylor 7, Shae Dixon 6, Alex Jensen 11, Blake Conyers 10, Andrew Molloy.
Lynden: Austin Anderson, Koby Whitman 4, Jordan Medcalf 9, Brock Heppner 22, Harley Vandenberg 2, Jordan Elsner, Kaleo Jandoc 1, Clay Kochuten 7, Liam Hanenburg 17.
CLASS 2A DISTRICT 1/2
Thursday, Feb. 13
Anacortes 66, Sedro-Woolley 55 (loser out)
Cedarcrest 65, Archbishop Murphy 56 (loser out)
Liberty 61, Sammamish 41 (loser out)
Blaine 65, Sehome 53 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 15
Lynden 71, Cedarcrest 54
Burlington-Edison 81, Blaine 51
Lakewood 81, Liberty 72
Mountlake Terrace 51, Anacortes 50
Tuesday, Feb. 18
Lynden 58, Mountlake Terrace 49
Lakewood 58, Burlington-Edison 47
Anacortes 65, Cedarcrest 50 (loser out)
Liberty 75 Blaine (loser out)
Thursday, Feb. 20
Anacortes 50, Burlington-Edison 46 (loser out)
Mountlake Terrace 72, Liberty 62 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 22
Mountlake Terrace 65, Anacortes 49 (winner third, to regionals; loser out)
Lynden 62, Lakewood 52 (winner first, loser second; both to regionals)
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.