Call it a pre-playoff game with a sold-out gym, screaming fans and flying cheerleaders, a booming band, and two of the best teams in the state.
Or just call it Whatcom County’s best girls basketball rivalry as Lynden Christian edged visiting Lynden, 58-50, in their regular-season finale Saturday afternoon, Feb. 4.
Technically, both teams had already secured their seeds for respective district tournaments. Lynden will go in as the No.1 seed in the Class 2A tourney, and LC will be the second seed behind Northwest Conference champion Nooksack Valley in the Class 1A playoffs.
But when you have girls who have grown up playing each other, one head coach who played for the other school and another who coached at the other school, not to mention trophy cases filled with seven state championships in the past 10 years, sure … it may not be a playoff game but it’s the next best thing.
For a preview of all the upcoming district tournaments, check out WhatcomHoops.com.
“It means a lot to everybody,” said Lynden Christian coach Brady Bomber, who starred on a Lynden state championship team before coaching the Lyncs to four state titles. “There are generations of great games. And it’ll make us better because good teams do that.”
If dealing with adversity in a game makes you better, then both teams should be happy.
The Lyncs, who improved to 19-2 overall and 14-1 in the NWC, came out strong with an 18-point first quarter. But the Lions would not go away, battling back in the third quarter behind freshman Payton Mills, who scored the last eight points of the period to give Lynden its first lead, 43-41.
That’s when the Lyncs’ big-game experience paid off. Instead of panicking, they tighten up their defense and got the ball to their two main scorers — sophomore Grace Hintz and senior Demi Dykstra.
Hintz made two buckets and assisted on a Dykstra 3-pointer to give the Lyncs back the lead and get the crowd in a frenzy. After a Hintz free throw and another basket, LC led by eight.
But Lynden, which fell to 17-4 overall and 12-3 in league, wasn’t done. Mills sank four straight free throws and with four minutes to go, the lead was down to four.
That’s as close as the Lions would get, though, as the Lyncs defense held Lynden to three more points the rest of the way. Hintz’s three-point play and Dykstra’s putback with 1:35 left kept Lynden at bay, and Dykstra appropriately finished Seniors Night by standing alone at the free throw line and sinking two free throws to end the game.
“It still means something,” said Dykstra. “It’s a rivalry game. It was Seniors Night. And we wanted to take this as an opportunity to prepare for the playoffs.” And are they ready for the playoffs? “We’re getting there,” she said with a smile.
Lynden coach Vic Wolffis, who has two state titles with the LC boys on his coaching resume, was gracious in defeat.
“Credit to LC and their suffocating defense,” he said. “Their D combined with Grace Hintz’s ability to seemingly score at will earned them a win in a hard-fought game. We are proud of our girls because they battled with all they had.”
Hintz would finish with 27 points, including 10 in the crucial fourth quarter, and Dykstra had 14 points, including LC’s other seven points in the final period. Freshman Ella Fritts added 7 points, and senior Reganne Arnold had 6 points.
“This was such a good win,” said Hintz. “We treated it like it was a playoff game. It’s always going to be a great memory.”
Mills finished with 21 points, including all seven of Lynden’s points in the fourth period. Junior Mallary Villars had 11 points, and senior Adia Newcomb added 6 points on a pair of 3s.
“I had some nerves at first but they went away after the first quarter,” said the freshman post. “It was super fun.”
In the end, the Lyncs showed why they are the two-time defending Class 1A state champions, although Bomber was quick to remind everyone that all the girls from last year had new roles this year. And that meant every girl would face a new test.
“You practice it, you dream of it, but you don’t know until you’re in the fire,” said Bomber of the playoff pressure. “When Lynden took us out of our rhythm (in the Lions’ third-quarter comeback), our resiliency showed a lot of our team’s DNA.”
The two teams will get to show their DNA this week as they participate in their respective district tournaments. Lynden Christian will host Meridian in a Class 1A semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Lynden will be hosting a Class 2A quarterfinal game next Friday, Feb. 10.
Lynden Christian 58, Lynden 50
Lynden 9 17 17 7—50
Lynden Christian 18 15 8 17—58
Lynden: K. Newcomb 3, VanderYacht 3, Villars 11, Selcho, A. Newcomb 6, Koetje 4, Wittenberg 2, Mills 21, Stephan.
Lynden Christian: Hagen, De. Dykstra 14, Herwerden 1, Fritts 7, Hintz 27, Fay, DeJong, Poag 3, Arnold 6, Shumate.
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.