There was no standing room only crowd, no blaring bands, no visiting cheer staffs, and no official league championship at stake. All that was on the line were bragging rights in their hometown.
But that was enough for the Lynden and Lynden Christian boys basketball teams.
In a back-and-forth battle that wasn’t decided until a halfcourt shot just missed at the final buzzer, the Lyncs defeated their crosstown rival Lion, 51-48, in the sweatbox known as Jake Maberry Gymnasium on Wednesday night, June 16.
Because the Northwest Conference has no post-season tournament and the WIAA canceled all state playoffs, the next-to-last regular-season game for both teams had added importance.
Both came into the game sporting 10-0 league records, which, in a sense, made Wednesday’s game for the “unofficial” NWC title. Not that it mattered.
“Honestly, (all the other stuff) didn’t matter,” said LC senior Cole Moorlag, who helped LC sweep Lynden in football and baseball, something that hadn’t happened in decades. “Once you got on the court, it was LC vs. Lynden.”
Lynden junior Jordan Medcalf agreed: “It’s the game you look on the calendar and say, ‘We’re playing them.’ This is our state championship game.”
It was a contest worthy of a state final. The high-powered Lyncs (now 11-1 overall) got their running game going and blitzed to a 21-11 lead early in the second quarter.
But the Lions’ stingy defense tightened up, and Lynden (10-3 overall) cut the gap to two at half and took a 42-35 lead at the end of the third quarter on Medcalf’s layup in traffic with three seconds left.
Then it was the Lyncs’ turn to claw back. They held Lynden to two points for the first six minutes of the fourth period, finally regaining the lead on Moorlag’s floater in the lane with 2:53 to go.
But Lynden senior Liam Hanenburg hit a turnaround and a layup and suddenly Lynden was back ahead, 48-47, with a minute to go.
The final minute, however, belonged to LC. Senior Shale Whittern hit a tough layup inside to give LC back the lead, 49-48. Then with the Lions going for the last shot, the Lyncs’ pressure caused a traveling call with four seconds left. LC senior Logan Dykstra was immediately fouled with 3.1 seconds to go and the game on the line.
Dykstra, who had the unenviable task of guarding the 6-foot-11 Hanenburg all game long, was drained by the end of the third quarter. But he stayed in, and the Lyncs were glad he was there at the end.
“Pushing on Liam the whole game, my legs were burning,” said Dykstra, who had a game-high 16 points, half of them in the fourth quarter. “But you’ve just got to be tough. It was me and the rim.”
Lynden Christian coach Tim Zylstra knew who he wanted with the ball in that situation.
“He was out of gas,” said Zylstra of Dykstra. “But he wanted to shoot those free throws. He encompasses what we do. He’s a great player, and he’s a greater person.”
Dykstra sank both free throws to give LC a three-point lead, but there was one more chance for the Lions.
Medcalf got the inbounds pass, managed to dribble just past halfcourt and let fly with a shot that was on target. But there would be no Lynden miracle as it bounced off the rim.
“I thought it was in,” said Medcalf, who tied Hanenburg with a team-high 13 points. Medcalf sparked Lynden’s second-quarter comeback with the play of the game: a steal of a ball going out of bounds, tip-toeing down the sideline and finishing with a fastbreak dunk that fired up the capacity crowd of about 400.
Moorlag had 12 points, going 6-of-8 from the field. Junior Andrew Hommes added 8 for the Lyncs, and sophomore Tyler Sipma had 7 points, 4 assists and 3 steals.
LC managed to stay with the Lions on the boards (23 to Lynden’s 25) thanks to tiny guards Moorlag (8 rebounds) and Sipma (5 rebounds), but the Lyncs were hurt by their 1-of-16 shooting from the 3-point-line.
But Lynden wasn’t much better in long-distance shooting, going 3-for-15 on 3-point attempts, and only managing three Hanenburg field goals in the fourth quarter as the Lions were outscored, 16-6, in the final period.
Senior Clay Kochuten had 8 points and a pair of 3s for the Lions, and senior Koby Whitman had 6 points and played great defense against LC’s Hommes. Hanenburg and freshman Anthony Canales had 7 rebounds each, and Canales and sophomore Coston Parcher had 4 assists each.
In the end, both coaches commended the play of the other team and their own team’s ability to rally against a talented opponent.
“We figured it would come to the end,” said Zylstra. “I respect those guys. To rally from a seven-point deficit against them … we had to play really well.”
Lynden coach Brian Roper was just as complimentary: “Getting down 10 to that team … I’m proud of our guys for coming back.’
Technically, Lynden can still claim a share of the “unofficial” NWC crown. The Lions host Blaine on Friday in both teams’ final game. Lynden Christian, meanwhile, hosts Meridian on Friday as those teams wrap up their regular season.
But for both the Lyncs and the Lions, this was the big game.
Roper put it best: “This game always means a lot. It was two really good teams. They’ll talk about it at the coffee shop 40 years from now.”