The Lynden girls basketball team had seen this script before, and this time the Lions rewrote the ending.
After playing perhaps their worst half since their only loss of the season, the top-seeded Lions played a brilliant second half to defeat eighth-seed West Valley (Yakima), 48-36, in the regional round of the Class 2A state tournament Saturday afternoon, Feb. 29, at Mount Vernon High School.
With the victory, Lynden (23-1) gets a bye into the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 5, at 10:30 a.m. in the Yakima SunDome. The Lions will play the winner of Wednesday’s game between Liberty (Issaquah) and Ellensburg.
But at halftime, things didn’t look promising. They were being outplayed at both ends of the court by the Eagles (18-5) and were facing a 24-16 deficit at the break.
“The last time we played this bad was in front of 3,000 people in our gym,” said Lynden coach Rob Adams of the Lions’ 37-34 loss to Lynden Christian in January. “I told them, ‘If you don’t want to feel that miserable again, then you’d better play better.”
Obviously, they didn’t want to feel the misery of losing again. The Lions came out in the third quarter and played … ferociously.
Ruby VanderHaak started the quarter with a 3-pointer, Faith Baar worked inside for a bucket and a free throw, Liv Tjoelker tossed in a pair of 3-pointers, Lexi Holman scored on an inbounds play, Keylie Hershey hit another 3-pointer and VanderHaak finished the quarter with a driving left-handed layup at the buzzer as the Lynden crowd went crazy.
Third-quarter totals: 23 points, four 3-pointers and a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter. With the Lions’ defense holding the Eagles to 12 points in the second half, the game was basically over.
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“We looked at the (senior) leaders and could tell they weren’t happy,” said junior Anna VanderYacht. “We could see at halftime, this isn’t us. We need to get our act together.”
VanderYacht was part of a quartet of defenders assigned with stopping West Valley’s do-everything point guard Hailey Marlow. While the Eagles senior finished with a team-high 15 points, she was held to one point in the critical third quarter and only 5 points in the second half.
Give credit to VanderYacht, seniors Keyna Holleman and Hershey, and even freshman Adia Newcomb, who provided the defensive play of the game. With Marlow going in for a breakaway layup in the fourth quarter, Newcomb ran her down and blocked the shot from behind.
VanderYacht said stopping Marlow was a team effort.
“The coach said, ‘Lock her up, and if she gets past you, my teammates will have my back,” said VanderYacht.
“All four of them played outstanding on No.3 (Marlow),” said Adams.
While there wasn’t a lot of offense in the defensive struggle, VanderHaak provided Lynden with 16 points that included four 3-pointers. Tjoelker had 9 points, and Baar and Hershey had 7 each. Baar had another dominating performance in the paint with 14 rebounds, and Hershey added 7 more boards.
While the bye is nice and the quarterfinal berth is important, the Lions’ journey won’t be easy. With second-seed Ellensburg being upset on Saturday, Lynden could face the Bulldogs in a No.1 vs. No.2 battle on Thursday.
But no matter. The Lions are used to writing their own script.
“We know what we want to accomplish,” said VanderHaak of the team’s state championship dreams. “Right now, it’s survive and advance. We have high goals … if we can all come together.”
Lynden 48, West Valley (Spokane) 36
West Valley (Spokane) 12 12 5 7—36
Lynden 8 8 23 9—48
West Valley (Spokane): Hailey Marlow 15, Nevaeh Sherwood 10, Jillian Taylor, Belle DeBoer, Alyssa Amann 4, Madison Moloney, Abbie Sicilia 2, Aliyah Henry 5, Sydney Finke, Rylen Palmer, Madison Carr.
Lynden: Alexis Holman 4, Liv Tjoelker 9, Anna VanderYacht 3, Adia Newcomb, Faith Baar 7, Madison Canales, Keylie Hershey 7, Keyna Holleman 2, Ruby VanderHaak 16.
CLASS 2A GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 28
Clarkston 56, Franklin Pierce 31 (loser out)
Liberty (Issaquah) 46, Fife 27 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 29
Lynden 48, West Valley (Spokane) 36
W.F. West 60, Ellensburg 47
Tumwater 58, Port Angeles 57
East Valley (Yakima) 51, Renton 30 (loser out)
Burlington-Edison 59, White River 55
Black Hills 66, North Kitsap 46 (loser out)
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.