Lynden Boys’ Rally Falls Short In Loss To Mt. Vernon

The good news for the Lynden boys basketball team is that the Lions will be well-prepared for close games when they begin the playoffs next week.

The bad news is that this time, Lynden couldn’t pull out the victory as the Lions mounted a late comeback that came up just short in losing to Mount Vernon, 76-75, on Thursday night, Feb. 1.

“Mount Vernon’s a really good team and you tip your hat to them,” said Lynden coach Brian Roper, whose squad won a two-point thriller a week earlier against Anacortes. “But I was proud of the way we battled back. You can’t simulate that in practice.”

Although the exciting game had a playoff atmosphere complete with a Jimi Hendrix-worthy guitar solo national anthem, the always-deafening Lynden pep band, rowdy fans on both sides, and the Northwest Conference title on the line, the end result — surprisingly — didn’t change much for the Lions.

Lynden (13-1 in league and 16-4 overall) had its 10-game winning streak snapped but can still claim at least a share of the NWC championship with a win on Saturday against rival Lynden Christian. And, more importantly, the Lions are already guaranteed the top seed in the upcoming Class 2A district playoffs.

Mount Vernon, meanwhile, won its 10th straight to improve to 13-1 in NWC play and 17-2 overall. The Bulldogs, the state’s third-ranked 3A team, can clinch a share of the league crown with the Lynden-LC winner if Mount Vernon wins Friday at home against Bellingham.

On Thursday night, the focus was not on the standings but on two of the state’s top teams battling to the end. And for much of the game, it looked like Mount Vernon wouldn’t let it be that close as the Bulldogs took advantage of a cold second quarter by Lynden to go up by 12 at the half.

But the Lions didn’t lie down despite playing their third game in four days and fourth in six days because Thursday’s game was rescheduled from Jan. 19 because of snow.

Lynden narrowed the margin to seven by the end of the third quarter and despite a flurry of Mount Vernon free throws — the Bulldogs were 11 of 16 from the line in the fourth period — the Lions kept clawing back.

Sparked by all-state guard Anthony Canales, the Lions scored 26 points in the fourth quarter cutting the Mount Vernon lead to two on several occasions but never retaking the lead.

A bad break in the final 30 seconds — junior Brant Heppner’s 3-pointer was waved off because of a Mount Vernon foul away from the ball — prevented Lynden from closing the gap to one. So did the Bulldogs’ Michael Johnson and Quinn Swanson who combined to make 5 of 6 free throws in the final 35 seconds when Lynden was forced to foul.

A Heppner’s 3-pointer with four seconds left did count, but Mount Vernon let the clock run out for the final score.

“Neither of us wanted to give an inch,” said Mount Vernon coach Brett Farrar, who Whatcom fans will remember fondly as the Blaine boys coach from 2018 to 2022. “Every possession was important. This was great for both of us. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Lynden and their coaching staff. They’re very tough in every way.”

Canales would finish with 30 points, 10 of them in the fourth period, along with 5 assists, and 4 steals. Junior Jack Stapleton had 16 points, a pair of 3-pointers, and 8 rebounds; senior Charlie Ayres had 11 points; Heppner had 10 points, two 3s, 6 rebounds and 4 assists despite still recovering from being sick all week; and senior Brady Elsner had 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists.

For Mount Vernon, Johnson was unstoppable for much of the game. The junior guard scored 33 points and had four 3-pointers including one off a steal just before the halftime buzzer. Swanson added 23 points, 10 coming in the fourth quarter to hold off the Lions, as well as 10 rebounds and 6 assists.

If there was one stat, however, that showed how the Lions played under pressure, it was their free throw shooting. Despite the rowdy crowd and importance of the game, Lynden made all 20 of its free throws. And playing under pressure is one of the reasons why Lynden has won the past two 2A state titles.

Canales, the two-time state tournament MVP who was 11 for 11 from the line Thursday, looked at the positive — especially with the playoffs on the horizon.

“It was a good learning experience for us,” the senior said of Lynden’s comeback. “It showed we can fight back. It showed we’ve got a chance no matter what.”

The Lions will wrap up the regular season in another pressure-packed game when they travel across town on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to face the Lyncs in a sold-out Lynden Christian gym. After that, Lynden will start the district tournament by hosting a quarterfinal game next Wednesday.

Making the night extra special for Lynden fans was the annual Hall of Fame inductions. Honored on Tuesday were Chad Baar and Tim Hansen, both 1992 graduates who among other athletic accomplishments helped the Lions win both the football and basketball state championships their senior year.

It was also announced that Lynden athletic director Mike McKee has been selected to the Washington Secondary Schools Athletic Administration Association Hall of Fame. Congratulations to all three Hall of Famers.

Mount Vernon 76, Lynden 75

Mount Vernon      24       16       16      20—76

Lynden                  20         8       21      26—75

Mount Vernon: Neyens 16, M. Johnson 33, Sokol, Swanson 23, Lucatero 4, L. Johnson.

Lynden: Elsner 8, Van Dalen, Ayres 11, K. Stapleton, Bowler, Holleman, Bedlington, Adams, Canales 30, Heppner 10, J. Stapleton 16.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

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.

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