When the state brackets came out and the Lynden girls basketball team found itself in the quarterfinals facing No.2-ranked Ellensburg, winner of 22 straight games, there were some among the Lions’ faithful who were upset and even, dare we say, doubting.
No need to worry.
The Lions showed why they are the top-ranked team by blitzing the Bulldogs, 62-44, in the Class 2A state tournament on Thursday, March 5, in the Yakima SunDome.
The victory, as impressive as any in the SunDome so far — boys or girls, 1A or 2A — moves Lynden (25-1) into the semifinals on Friday at 3:45 p.m. against a familiar foe, Burlington-Edison.
Follow all the tournament action on WhatcomHoops.com and on the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.
For the Lynden seniors, there is only one goal after last year, when they came into the tournament top ranked, suffered a Thursday loss and had to settle for fourth place.
But did even they believe they could beat the talented Bulldogs by 18 points?
“Yeah,” said Ruby VanderHaak as if questioning why there would be any doubt. “We didn’t want that (a Thursday loss) to happen again. It’s up to us.”
As has been often the case this year, the Lions set the tone with their defense. After holding Ellensburg (23-2) to its lowest point total of the season, Lynden coach Rob Adams was asked if he thought his defense played well.
With a grin he could only shrug: “I thought we defended alright.”
Alright? They outrebounded the Bulldogs, 32-21; held Ellensburg to 33 percent from the field and a chilly 3-of-17 on 3-pointers; and limited Ellensburg point guard Brinley Hagemeier, who just missed a triple double on Wednesday, to 0 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist.
Give defensive whiz Anna VanderYacht most of the credit in defending Hagemeier, but it was a total team effort on defense — and on offense, according to VanderYacht.
“The coach just says, the team’s got my back,” VanderYacht said about her defensive strategy. “I trust my team to help if I need it.”
That trust helped on the offensive end, too, where the Lions unselfishly dished out 17 assists.
“Every single player is very unselfish,” said VanderYacht. “And then Ruby hits daggers.”
That would be Ruby VanderHaak, and the Bulldogs will have nightmares thinking of the 5-foot-7 guard.
After the Lions jumped to a 9-0 lead, Ellensburg clawed right back to cut it to 14-8 to start the second period. Then it was time for the daggers.
VanderHaak hit a 3-pointer off a VanderYacht steal and assist to make it 22-10. After VanderYacht hit a 3-pointer, VanderHaak hit a 3-pointer, then another 3-pointer, then one more 3-pointer for good measure.
Four 3-pointers in four minutes made it a 15-point lead and Ellensburg never recovered.
For the game, VanderHaak hit 5-of-10 3-point shots to finish with a game-high 18 points. Liv Tjoelker added three more 3-pointers, and Keylie Hershey hit both her 3-point attempts as the Lions went 12-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Tjoelker finished with 14 points, and Hershey had 12 points and a team-high 5 assists. Junior post Faith Baar had a team-high 9 rebounds and 6 points.
“We were shooting the shots we were given,” said Adams. “Girls did a great job (passing it to the open player). We got good looks, and we happened to hit those shots. Ruby just had to knock them down.”
VanderHaak agreed: “When you’re open, you’re supposed to hit those shots.”
She and the Lions did, and now they are heading back to the semifinals. After all, they are on a mission.
Tournament tidbits: Hershey was awarded the sportsmanship medal for Lynden. … Lynden’s Ashtyn Van Dalen was featured on KOMO-TV at the end of the Wednesday’s 6 p.m. newscast. If you missed it on the tube, check out the station’s website: https://komonews.com/news/erics-heroes.
Lynden 62, Ellensburg 44
Ellensburg 8 16 8 12—44
Lynden 14 23 10 15—62
Ellensburg: Brinley Hagemeier, Dylan Philip 9, Rylee Leishman 13, Aucklyn Ness 3, Payton Lyyski, Olivia Anderson 2, Kaelyn Smith 11, Maddie Kennedy, Kiadyn Whitney 2, Katie Blume 3, Ellysia Kernan, Kami Hartrick 1.
Lynden: Alexis Holman, Liv Tjoelker 14, Anna VanderYacht 6, Adia Newcomb, Faith Baar 6, Madison Canales 4, Keylie Hershey 12, Keyna Holleman 2, Ashtyn VanDalen, Ruby VanderHaak 18, Ashlyn Alexander, Riley Anderson.
Class 2A Girls State Tournament
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4
Port Angeles 68, Clarkston 58 (loser out)
Ellensburg 73, Liberty (Issaquah) 52 (loser out)
East Valley 44, White River 44 (loser out)
West Valley (Spokane) 67, Black Hills 36 (loser out)
THURSDAY, MARCH 5
Burlington-Edison 50, Port Angeles 45
Lynden 62, Ellensburg 44
Tumwater 43, East Valley (Yakima) 38
West Valley (Spokane) 44, W.F. West 43
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
#6 Port Angeles vs. #2 Ellensburg, 9 a.m. (loser out)
#13 East Valley (Yakima) vs. #7 W.F. West, 10:30 p.m. (loser out)
#1 Lynden vs. #5 Burlington-Edison, 3:45 p.m.
#3 Tumwater vs. #8 West Valley (Spokane), 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, MARCH 7
Consolation game, 8 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Consolation game, 11:15 a.m. (winner third, loser fifth)
Championship game, 5 p.m. (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.