The inexperienced Lynden boys basketball team has enjoyed a season of new experiences on the way to a No.1 ranking, 23 impressive victories and a berth in the Class 2A state semifinals.
But the young Lions, almost all of whom were playing in their first state playoffs, suffered their worst experience Friday night and were left shellshocked after a 62-56 loss to North Kitsap in the Yakima SunDome.
“I told them ‘We’re proud of them,’ and ‘we love them,’” said Lynden coach Brian Roper of his post-game talk. “There’s no better group of kids that I know of. But right now they’re hurting for each other.”
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The Lions will have an opportunity to regroup Saturday and still accomplish what many thought unlikely: earning a third-place state trophy. Lynden plays Lindbergh at 1 p.m. with the winner taking third and the loser fifth.
And a third-place trophy for a team that returned only two reserves from last year and is made up of almost all of last year’s JV squad would normally be worth bragging about. But not when you’re the two-time defending state champions hoping to win an unprecedented third straight state title.
But it was not to be. And not because the Lions didn’t try or even that they collapsed in the face of the pressure. Quite the opposite.
“We just ran into a hot team in the fourth quarter,” said Roper. “We didn’t get enough stops and make enough plays. But sometimes you have to tip your hat to them.”
That Lynden (23-3) lost to North Kitsap is not a huge surprise. The Vikings (22-4) were the third seed and considered a title contender.
It actually was more surprising when the Lions, playing like veterans as they have all season, took a 15-point second-half lead. And when the Lions’ leader, Brock Heppner, hit seven straight points to end the third quarter, Lynden led by a seemingly comfortable 47-33 score going into the final period.
But what happened in the final period left everyone who witnessed it stunned.
The Vikings, who had only three 3-pointers up to that point, began firing out of desperation … and hitting. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
Three straight bombs cut the margin to 50-44 two minutes into the period. Two more long 3’s cut the margin to one with 2:37 left. Two layups gave North Kitsap a 57-56 lead with 50 seconds remaining.
And three free throws in the final 31 seconds completed the stunning comeback and ended Lynden’s hopes for a three-peat.
In the end, the only stat that mattered was the 29-9 fourth-quarter scoring, that and the Vikings’ 5-for-6 3-point shooting in the final period.
But even in defeat, the Lions shined.
Sophomore guard Jordan Medcalf continued to show why he is an all-star in the making with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Junior center Liam Hanenburg showed why he is an all-star right now with another double-double — 16 points and 11 rebounds.
And Heppner showed why he was the team’s best player all season by scoring 16 points, often in clutch situations, and pulling down 5 boards. But even the team’s inspirational leader couldn’t help them withstand the Vikings’ fourth-quarter attack.
Now the young team will seek to add one more experience to their season of learning: collecting a trophy for the already oversized boys basketball trophy case.
“Third place … we’ll go for it,” said Roper. “But I think they understand that while trophies are great, it’s the relationships that are important.”
Tournament tidbits: Heppner was awarded the game’s sportsmanship medal for Lynden.
North Kitsap 62, Lynden 56
North Kitsa 12 9 12 29—62
Lynden 22 12 13 9—56
North Kitsap: Johnny Olmsted 6, Shaa Humphrey 21, Kobe McMillan 15, Jonas La Tour 14, Logan Chmielewski 5, Aiden Olmstead 1, Trent Williams.
Lynden: Koby Whitman 2, Jordan Medcalf 17, Brock Heppner 16, Harley VandenBerg, Elijah Lyons, Jordan Elsner, Kaleo Jandoc, Clay Kochuten 5, Liam Hanenberg 16.
Class 2A Boys State Tournament
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4
North Kitsap 65, Selah 52 (loser out)
Toppenish 64, Prosser 60 (loser out)
Lindbergh 68, Lakewood 57 (loser out)
Black Hills 52, Mountlake Terrace 50 (loser out)
THURSDAY, MARCH 5
North Kitsap 64, White River 43
Lynden 73, Toppenish 55
Lindbergh 57, Tumwater 54
Clarkston 51, Black Hills 42
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
Toppenish 71, White River 57 (loser out)
Black Hills 65, Tumwater 57 (loser out)
North Kitsap 62, Lynden 56
Clarkston 42, Lindbergh 38
SATURDAY, MARCH 7
#2 Toppenish vs. #9 Black Hills, 9:30 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)
#1 Lynden vs. #4 Lindbergh 1 p.m. (winner third, loser fifth)
#3 North Kitsap vs. #7 Clarkston, 3 p.m. (winner first, loser second)