In what knowledgable sports fans consider the best high school boys basketball rivalry in the state, it was Lynden’s turn as the Lions edged Lynden Christian, 61-56, on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 3.
“Another Lynden-LC game,” deadpanned Lynden coach Brian Roper of the exciting, sold-out atmosphere in the LC gym. Lyncs coach Tim Zylstra agreed: “On whatever day it’s played, it’s the best game in the state.”
The regular season-ending contest for both teams gave Lynden a share of the Northwest Conference title with Mount Vernon with a 14-1 league record and a 17-4 overall mark. Lynden Christian fell to 13-2 in the NWC and 19-2 overall.
The Lynden girls didn’t have to go down to the wire to beat rival Lynden Christian on Saturday night. For the story and lots of photos, click on Lynden girls win.
For the past five seasons the two teams have alternated victories each year but shared success. Since 2018, Lynden has won four Class 2A state titles including the past two, and Lynden Christian has won three 1A state crowns including the past two and finished second once.
But after LC’s rivalry win last season, it was Lynden’s turn and when it came to crunch time, the Lions turned to their senior leader.
After Lynden Christian fought back from a 12-point, second-quarter deficit to finally tie the score at 51 with just under four minutes to go in the game, Lynden guard Anthony Canales took over.
He hit a long-range 3-pointer with three minutes to go, scored inside with just under two minutes to go, turned a steal into his second dunk of the game with 1:18 to go, and then sank three free throws to put Lynden up 61-53 with 21 second left.
“I just felt like the team needed a spark and the ball bounced my way,” said the all-stater.
Canales’s offensive fireworks — he scored 12 of Lynden’s 15 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 32 points — were the difference at the end, but both coaches agreed it was Lynden’s aggressiveness especially on the boards that was the difference throughout the game.
“Every kid who stepped on the floor played hard,” said Roper, whose squad was playing its fifth game in eight days yet came out with the early energy to take a lead it would never relinquish. “I was pleased with how scrappy we were were. We got a lot of hustle points. When the lights were on, our guys were relentless.”
The Lions’ hustle showed on defense where they held LC to its lowest scoring output of the season. Especially relentless were senior guards Brady Elsner and Charlie Ayres who hounded the Lyncs’ backcourt all afternoon.
On offense, the Lions got 9 points on three big 3s from Ayres, 7 points from junior Brant Heppner, 6 points from junior Jack Stapleton, and 5 points and 7 assists from Elsner. Elsner also led the Lions with 7 rebounds, and Canales, Heppner, and Stapleton had 6 rebounds each.
Zylstra praised the Lions for winning the rebounding battle, 37-29 — something that rarely happens against the Lyncs — but also praised his team’s effort in coming back.
“You know it’s going to be a hard game,” he said. “We worked our tails off to get back in it. I don’t fault our effort. But they fought back too.”
The Lyncs were led by junior guard Gannon Dykstra who had 18 of his team-high 23 points in LC’s second-half rally and finished with four 3-pointers and 5 assists.
Senior Jeremiah Wright had 14 points and 10 rebounds, senior Dawson Bouma had 13 points, and freshman Dawson Hintz came off the bench to spark the Lyncs with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
When the final buzzer sounded to another Lynden-LC classic, both coaches acknowledged that the game was just the warm-up for the playoffs ahead.
“I liked the fact that our guys weren’t exuberant in their celebration,” said Roper, whose Lynden teams have won six state championships. “We don’t want this to be the highlight of our season.”
Zylstra, whose Lyncs have won both state titles since he took over as head coach, also was looking to the future.
“Nothing changes,” he said. “Everything (we want) is still in front of us.”
As the top seed, Lynden begins play in the 2A district tournament on Wednesday when it hosts the winner of Monday’s play-in game between Sedro-Woolley and Burlington-Edison.
Top seed Lynden Christian opens the 1A district playoffs on Wednesday, when the Lyncs host the winner of Monday’s play-in game between Mount Baker and Blaine.
Speaking for both teams, Canales had the final word: “The second season starts now, and we have better and bigger things ahead of us.”
Lynden 61, Lynden Christian 56
Lynden 18 12 16 15—61
Lynden Christian 12 10 19 15—56
Lynden: Elsner 5, Van Dalen, Ayres 9, K. Stapleton, Bowler, Holleman 2, Canales 32, Heppner 7, J. Stapleton 6.
Lynden Christian: Hintz 6, Bouma 13, Dykstra 23, Howell, Wright 14, Stuit, Bosman.