For the Sehome boys basketball team, this is the Class 2A state tournament the Mariners have been pointing to for years.
For Lynden, this is just the latest one.
Whatcom’s two best Class 2A boys teams will begin their state quests on the road this weekend in the state regionals.
The sixth-seeded Lions take on third seed Renton on Friday at 8 p.m. at Auburn Mountainview High School. The fifth-seeded Mariners go even farther south to play fourth-seeded Mark Morris on Saturday at 4 p.m. at WF West High School in Chehalis.
Check out Whatcom Hoops for previews of the Class 1B boys, 1A boys, 1A girls, and 2A girls state regionals.
The good news is that because Lynden, Sehome and their two opponents are seeded in the top eight of the 16-team tournament, all four will advance to the state tournament in the Yakima SunDome.
The winners will move straight to the state quarterfinals on Thursday, March 2. The losers will play loser-out games on Wednesday, March 1, and will need to win to advance to the quarterfinals.
Of course, the “bad” news when you’re seeded in the top eight is that you have to play a really good team and both Sehome and Lynden will have their hands full.
Mark Morris is a long-time state power guided by the state’s winningest active coach, Hall of Famer Bill Bakamus. Surprisingly, with all its state history, none of this year’s Monarchs have been to state, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a pushover.
“They have a very good team with a number of skilled players,” said Sehome coach Brad Jackson of the Monarchs, who boast a 22-2 record and a pair of guards averaging more than 20 points a game. “They play tough defense, have good shooters and push it when they can. It’ll be a challenge.”
Sehome, however, has faced challenges already this season.The Mariners have two victories over Lynden and one over 1A power Lynden Christian with two close losses to 2A co-favorite Anacortes and one to seventh-seeded Prosser.
And this year’s senior-laden team has been looking forward to Yakima all season long, especially after reaching the SunDome last year but failing to place.
The 18-4 Mariners are led by guards Grant Kepley and Mat Storms and 6-foot-7 post Grey Garrison, all of whom can slash inside or hit from outside. Isaac Lawrence is a 3-point threat, Dane Dominguez is a facilitator, and junior Braddock Duckworth has come on to be an inside scoring threat.
For Lynden, the challenge will not be in the history books but on the court, where Renton has won 23 of 24 games with a pair of 6-7 forwards and a bunch of 3-point shooters. Although none of these Redhawks have been to the SunDome, just by their record they join unbeaten Pullman and Anacortes as co-favorites.
Not that any of that intimidates the 20-4 Lions, who have won three of the past four state championships and placed in the top three in nine of the past 10 tournaments. This year they qualified for state the hard way, winning two consolation contests after losing a heart-breaker to Sehome in the district semifinals.
“After two loser-out games, we’re just thrilled to be playing,” said Lynden coach Brian Roper, who has led the Lions to five state titles. “When you get here you expect to play really good teams.”
Surprisingly considering their state successes, the defending champs are somewhat overlooked despite returning state tournament MVP and scoring machine Anthony Canales and steady point guard Coston Parcher from last year’s team. As usual, the Lions bring ferocious defense with athletic senior forwards Kobe Baar and Trey Smiley and 6-6 sophomore post Brant Heppner.
But like each of the past teams, this one is different, although they all have one thing in common.
“The Northwest Conference prepares us well,” said Roper. “You get beat up a little bit, but you’re going to be stronger. Last year’s team was a different team (than this year’s). We haven’t talked much about it (defending the title). We are pursuing something, not defending it.”
The Lions and Mariners will start their pursuit this weekend. Here’s a look at the two teams and the Class 2A state tournament.
Record: 18-4 (#5 seed)
Starters: Grey Garrison, F, Sr., 6-7; Mathew Storms, G, Sr., 6-3; Dane Dominguez, G, Sr., 5-10; Grant Kepley, G, Sr., 6-4; Isaac Lawrence, G, Sr., 6-1.
Reserves:; Eli Daheim, G, Jr., 5-10; Austin McKay, G, Jr., 6-3; Kai Swanson, G, Sr., 6-1; Braddock Duckworth, C, Jr., 6-6; Nathan Eises, C, Sr., 6-4; Tommy Funk, F, 5-11, Sr; Nolan Wright, G, Fr., 5-10.
Team preview: The Mariners have proven they can play with the best in the state and with Kepley and especially Garrison, they present match-up problems for almost every team. But to beat the best in the state, Sehome will need to find ways to win the close games when its outside shots aren’t falling. With these seniors and Jackson’s championship experience, look for the Mariners to be playing Saturday for some big-time hardware.
State outlook: Pullman, Anacortes, and Renton are everyone’s favorites, but if Lynden has proven anything during its championship runs the past four tournaments, it’s whoever is playing the best in Yakima is the one who will win it. The top 10 seeds all have impressive records so this could be one of the most even tournaments in recent memory.
Coach Brad Jackson: “It seems like a lot of teams could do damage. For us, we’re glad to be here. We know it’ll be a challenge.”
Record: 20-4 (#6 seed)
Starters: Coston Parcher, G, Sr., 6-1; Anthony Canales, G/F, Jr., 6-4; Trey Smiley, F, Sr., 6-3; Brant Heppner, G/F, So., 6-6; Kobe Baar, G/F, Sr., 6-2;.
Reserves: Cameron Peterson, P, Sr., 6-6; Brady Elsner, G, Jr., 6-0; Alexander Matthews, F, Sr., 6-1; Elijah Hanenburg, F, Sr., 6-1; Weston Van Dalen, F, Jr., 6-1; Charlie Ayres, G, Jr., 5-10; Daniel Bowler, G, Fr., 5-10.
Team preview: With victories over Prosser, North Kitsap, and Anacortes, it’s hard to believe Lynden is hardly being mentioned among the favorites, which is probably just fine with the Lions. Their defense and athleticism promise to make it a long night for most teams, but their key will be to find offense besides the always reliable Canales. Don’t be shocked if Lynden continues its top-three streak.
State outlook: Lynden boys basketball history is legendary, but when it comes to the Class 2A state tourney, the Northwest Conference all but owns the finals. In the 24 years of the tournament, the NWC has won 11 state titles (Lynden 5, Squalicum 2, Blaine 2, Lynden Christian 1, Nooksack Valley 1) and placed second nine times. So don’t be surprised if Anacortes, Lynden or Sehome is playing for the state crown on Saturday.
Coach Brian Roper: “I would say 10 teams could win it. Pullman … but after that there are a lot of deserving teams and that’s been proven throughout the year.”
CLASS 2A STATE REGIONALS
Friday, Feb. 24
#3 Renton (23-1) vs. #6 Lynden (20-4) at Auburn Mountainview High, 8 p.m. (both to state tournament)
Saturday, Feb. 25
#1 Pullman (23-0) vs. #8 RA Long (20-4) at West Valley High (Spokane), 2 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#2 Anacortes (21-2) vs. #7 Prosser (18-4) at Arlington High, 2 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#4 Mark Morris (22-2) vs. #5 Sehome (18-4) at WF West High, 4 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#10 Enumclaw (20-3) vs. #15 Ridgefield (13-10) at Auburn High, 4 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#12 Sammamish (16-8) vs. #13 North Kitsap (17-7) at Bellevue CC, 4 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#16 Clover Park (13-8) at #9 West Valley (Spokane) (19-4), 8 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#14 Foss (19-6) at #11 Tumwater (18-5), 6 p.m. (winner to state tournaments, loser out)
At Yakima SunDome
Wednesday-Saturday, March 1-4
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.