It was rough — both emotionally and physically — but when it was over, the Lynden boys basketball team came out winners.
The Lions showed resiliency and composure in dominating Lindbergh, 72-58, to take third place at the Class 2A state tournament on Saturday, March 7, in the Yakima SunDome.
This came after giving up their dream of a third straight state title with a heart-breaking loss in the semifinals Friday night.
“It’s hard to come back,” said Lynden coach Brian Roper. “You’re no longer playing for the gold ball. It tests your commitment for your team and your school. You’re playing for each other. It was a great effort by the kids.”
And when it was over, it took a great effort not to let the emotions come out.
Roper got choked up when asked about his seniors, who played their last game for the green and gold — Austin Anderson, Elijah Lyons, Jordan Elsner, Harley VandenBerg, and Brock Heppner — noting that whether they played a lot or a little, they all built team chemistry.
But he singled out Heppner, a key member of the past two state championship teams and the leader for a squad that had almost no varsity experience before this season.
“Most coaches can coach 25 years and never coach a guy like Brock Heppner,” said Roper.
Look for more photos from the game on the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page. And follow all the tournament action on WhatcomHoops.com.
Heppner, too, fought back the tears.
“I’ve been watching Lynden (basketball teams) since I was a baby,” said Heppner, whose father Brian is an assistant coach for the Lions. “It’s really emotional.”
So how do you bounce back from a difficult loss in just one day?
“We were shedding a few tears, we had a team hug, and we wanted to finish on a high note,” said Heppner.
The Lions did just that. Riding the inside game of Heppner and junior center Liam Hanenburg, Lynden took a double-digit lead in the third quarter.
And when the Eagles decided to get even more physical — some might even call it “taking cheap shots” — to the point of angering the usually calm Roper, the Lions not only got even … they got better.
With Heppner going inside, Hanenburg and Jordan Medcalf putting down dunks, Lynden stretched the lead to more than 20. Then it was time to celebrate winning the program’s 38th state trophy.
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” said Hanenburg. “I’m so proud of our guys. It was really emotional (coming back from Friday’s loss). But we came out with a point to prove.”
Hanenburg proved he could take a beating and keep on scoring. Despite getting pushed and shoved all afternoon and having his teeth chipped by a blow that wasn’t called a foul, he had a team-high 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Heppner added his usual double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Junior forward Clay Kochuten provided the outside scoring by hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers and scoring 14 points.
For their efforts all tournament long, Hanenburg and Heppner were named to the all-tournament second team.
Tournament tidbits: Shaa Humphrey of North Kitsap was named the tournament MVP. Also on the first team were Mo Kora of Lindbergh, Tru Allen of Clarkston, Jonas La Tour of North Kitsap and Isaac Perez of Toppenish.
Joining Hanenburg and Heppner on the second team were Avery Armin and Justin Hicks of Black Hills, and Kobe McMillan of North Kitsap.
Lynden 72, Lindbergh 58
Lynden 15 18 18 21—72
Lindbergh 13 12 9 24—58
Lynden: Koby Whitman 7, Jordan Medcalf 4, Brock Heppner 13, Harley VandenBerg, Elijah Lyons 2, Jordan Elsner 1, Kaleo Jandoc 4, Clay Kochuten 14, Liam Hanenberg 25, Austin Anderson, Dawson Adams, Ian Jacob 2.
Lindbergh: Xavier Bailey 8, Mo Kora 36, Brian Pocaigue 3, Julian Gary, Deonte Forrnerett 7, Ryan Do, Parker Duncan 2, Nathaniel Kassa.
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
Black Hills 63, Toppenish 58 (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Lynden 72, Lindbergh 58 (winner third, loser fifth)
North Kitsap 56, Clarkston 53 (winner first, loser second)
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.