It was the perfect time for a young, inexperienced team to feel the pressure of its first state game. And it was the perfect time for the veteran to give his teammates a big grin.
“I just told them to relax,” said Brock Heppner after his Lynden boys basketball team took the first step toward defending its Class 2A state title by beating Mountlake Terrace in the regional round, 59-55, on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 29, at Mount Vernon High School.
“Young guys are up and down. I just told them to smile and enjoy it. I had to tell Roper that, too.”
Roper is Lynden coach Brian Roper, who has a little more experience in these matters than his 17-year-old senior leader, having guided the Lions to the past two state championships and four total in the past 13 years. But even the veteran coach was willing to give his star a little credit.
“He’s as competitive a guy as I’ve ever coached,” said Roper of Heppner. “And he’s learned to channel his emotions for himself and for his teammates. He’s learned to stay calm himself, and calm his teammates.”
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The top-seeded Lions’ victory over the eighth-seeded Hawks not only raised Lynden’s record to 23-2 but earned the Lions a first-round bye into the quarterfinals of next week’s state tournament in the Yakima SunDome.
Lynden (23-2) now will play on Thursday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Prosser and second-seed Toppenish, which was upset Saturday in regionals.
Mountlake Terrace (18-7) will have to do it the hard way, playing a loser-out game on Wednesday against the winner of the regional game between Black Hills and Woodland.
For the first quarter and half Saturday, it was Mountlake Terrace that looked like the No.1-team in the state, and the Lions who looked like state rookies, which, of course, 10 out of the 12 players are.
The Hawks, out to avenge a nine-point loss to Lynden in the district semifinals, bombed in 3-pointers from all over the gym and took a commanding 27-18 lead.
That’s when Heppner flashed his grin for his teammates to see. And that’s when the Lions showed the crowd why they are No.1.
In the final four minutes of the second period, Heppner hit three free throws and a layup, Liam Hanenburg had a putback bucket and a fastbreak layup, Jordan Medcalf muscled inside for a three-point play, and Koby Whitman scored off a steal and another fastbreak layup.
Meanwhile, the Hawks bricked a pair of free throws, missed a breakaway layup, and suddenly Lynden had a 32-27 lead at the half, and the Lions felt like smiling again.
But it would be no blowout.
Lynden never surrendered the lead, but Mountlake Terrace cut the margin to one with four minutes to go and to three with 34 seconds left. But Kaleo Jandoc hit one free throw and Hanenburg hit two to finish off the Hawks.
Hanenburg finished with a game-high 21 points and 20 rebounds, as the Lions outrebounded the Hawks, 43-11.
Heppner had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Medcalf added 11 points.
“They were a very physical team,” said the 6-foot-11 Hanenburg, who added he hadn’t counted all his bruises but could feel them. “We just wanted to stay calm the whole time. I was really proud of our guys.”
So was their coach.
“It wasn’t our best game, but it was our grittiest game,” said Roper. “We teach two things: Play as hard as you can and as unselfishly as you can.
“Some people might be a little tired of seeing Lynden’s name in the state tournament. But I know how hard they’ve worked.”
Lynden 59, Mountlake Terrace 55
Mountlake Terrace 16 11 12 16—55
Lynden 14 18 11 16—59
Mountlake Terrace: Mason Christianson 2, Muhommed Kinteh 9, Jeffrey Anysmah 13, Trazz Pepper 6, Robbie Baringer 10, Bradley Blacker 7, Vitaly Mkrtychyan, Jace Brookfield 8.
Lynden: Austin Anderson, Koby Whitman 6, Jordan Medcalf 11, Brock Heppner 16, Harley VandenBerg, Elijah Lyons, Jordan Elsner, Kaleo Jandoc 5, Clay Kochuten, Liam Hanenberg 21.
CLASS 2A BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 28
Selah 68, Renton 58 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 29
Lakewood 53, Franklin Pierce 49 (loser out)
Lynden 59, Mountlake Terrace 55
Tumwater 60, North Kitsap 55
Prosser 97, Clover Park 78 (loser out)
Clarkston 53, Toppenish 49
White River 71, Lindbergh 56
Black Hills 71, Woodland 42 (loser out)