With their three tallest players sitting on the bench with injuries, a starter coming up lame just a minute before game time, and their leading scorer suffering from the flu, the Lynden girls basketball team certainly had all the excuses it needed.
But when they were down by one with less than a minute to go, the Lions were far from out … as they scored the final four points of the game to defeat Burlington-Edison, 43-40, in an exciting Class 2A District 1/2 tournament semifinal Friday at Jake Maberry Gymnasium.
Now instead of looking for excuses, the Lions will be looking for their suitcases as they prepare for a trip to Yakima with one of the district’s four state tournament berths.
Still alive for one of the two remaining state berths is Bellingham, which pulled out a thriller of its own Friday by beating Liberty (Issaquah) on the road in overtime, 52-48, in a consolation matchup.
The Red Raiders will play a winner-to-state, loser-out contest against Burlington-Edison on Saturday.
For updates on how our Whatcom County teams are doing in the 1B, 1A, 2A, and 3A tournaments, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com. And be looking for more photos on the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.
Lynden Girls Tough It Out, Heading Back To State
For a short bunch of over-achievers, the Lions pride themselves on being tough — both mentally and physically. But Friday’s game will go down as one to remember in a season of highlights.
“I’m proud of our toughness,” said Lynden coach Rob Adams, whose team has now qualified for state 12 of the past 13 years and is returning almost everyone from last year’s fifth-place squad. “We didn’t get lucky. They’ve been a pretty mentally tough group (all year). They earned the right to go to state.”
The victory moves Lynden (19-3) into Saturday’s district championship game against Archbishop Murphy (19-2) at 5:30 p.m. at Mount Vernon High School.
If there is a poster child for toughness, it would have to be junior guard Ruby VanderHaak. Dragging all game long because of the flu, the team’s leading scorer had two points through three quarters and hadn’t come close to hitting her patented 3-point shot.
But with Burlington clinging to the last bit of what once was a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead, VanderHaak found a little space — and a lot of strength — and fired in a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to give Lynden a 42-40 lead.
“Coach called a play,” said VanderHaak of her game-winner, “and I heard him yell, ‘hit it.’ So I knew it was the shot I had to shoot.”
Burlington’s Katie King, who had already hit for a team-high 13 points, missed from long-range, and Lynden’s Keylie Hershey added a free throw with six seconds left for a three-point margin. And when King’s desperation attempt missed, the tired but tough Lions had pulled out a win.
“We’re a tough bunch,” said junior guard Livia Tjoelker, whose 12 first-half points kept Lynden in the game when senior starter Blakely Doerge had to sit out with a sprained ankle and VanderHaak was lucky to be playing at all. “We’ve got a collective responsibility to pick each other up.”
As usual, it was the “three stooges” — “That’s what coach calls us,” said Tjoelker — who led the Lions in scoring. Besides Tjoelker’s dozen, which included a pair of 3-pointers, Hershey had 11 points and VanderHaak finished with 10.
But Adams was just as quick to praise the team’s hard-nosed defense, which held the Tigers to two points in the final six and a half minutes, singling out Alexis Holman for her “warrior spirit” and freshman Samantha Villars for her best defensive effort of the season.
And now that the Lions are assured of a state berth, how will their leader celebrate?
“I’m tired,” said VanderHaak. “I’m going to bed.”
Lynden 43, Burlington-Edison 40
Burlington-Edison 11 8 12 9 — 40
Lynden 11 13 6 13 — 43
Burlington-Edison: Miranda Maskell 3, Katie King 13, Marcie Cameron, Brylee Axelson-Ney 4, Lexy Watson, Sydney Reisner 9, Hali Raknaud-Hinds 9, Amey Rainaud-Hinds, Grace Dalton 2.
Lynden: Alexis Holman, Livia Tjoelker 12, Anna VanderYacht 2, Samantha Villars, Keylie Hershey 11, Keyna Holleman 6, Kyla Bonsen 2, Ruby VanderHaak 10, Ashlyn Alexander.
Bellingham Girls Won’t Quit, One Win Away From State
It took a team effort, and the ninth-seeded Red Raiders got one as they upset fifth-seeded Liberty (Issaquah), 52-48, in Renton.
“We had big performances from a variety of players tonight, which was one of the best parts about this victory,” said Bellingham coach Michael Russo. “Our girls have battled through adversity all season long and are playing their best basketball of the season.”
Adi McKay hit five 3-pointers for a team-high 19 points and the 5-foot-4 sophomore guard nabbed five steals to lead the Red Raiders (10-13). But everyone pitched in.
Mazy Wright had 14 points, four rebounds and three steals, and the freshman guard made her biggest plays in overtime, sinking a big 3-pointer and adding a free throw to give Bellingham its four-point margin.
Sophomore forward Alexa Mee had six points, 11 rebounds and three assists, and junior forward Amya Cook added seven points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“This was a hard fought road win for us in the most important game of the season,” said Russo. “It was very evenly matched all the way through and I give credit to Liberty for playing a really nice game. We look forward to the opportunity to take on Burlington-Edison tomorrow afternoon.”
The Red Raiders will take on the Tigers at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Mount Vernon High School.
CLASS 2A DISTRICT 1/2 GIRLS TOURNAMENT
First round (Thursday, Feb. 7)
Sammamish 71, Blaine 54 (loser out)
Cedarcrest 58, Mountlake Terrace 32 (loser out)
Liberty 44, Sehome 38 (loser out)
Bellingham 49, Sedro-Woolley 46 (loser out)
Second round (Thursday)
Lynden 70, Cedarcrest 44
Burlington-Edison 73, Sammamish 50
Anacortes 55, Liberty 34
Archbishop Murphy 53, Bellingham 35
Consolation games (Friday)
Sammamish 53, Cedarcrest 48 (12-11) (loser out)
Bellingham 52, Liberty 48 `(loser out)
Lynden 43, Burlington 40 (winner to state)
Archbishop Murphy 58, Anacortes 44 (winner to state)
Consolation semifinal (Saturday)
Sammamish (13-11) vs. Anacortes (14-8) at Mount Vernon High School, 11:30 a.m. (winner to state, loser out)
Bellingham (10-13) vs. Burlington-Edison (18-4) at Mount Vernon High School, 2:30 p.m. (winner to state, loser out)
Championship final (Saturday)
Lynden (19-3) vs. Archbishop Murphy (19-2) at Mount Vernon High School, 5:30 p.m. (winner first, loser second, both advance to state)
Consolation final (Monday)
At Mount Vernon High School, noon (winner third, loser fourth, both advance to state)
(Full schedule and bracket at nwcathletics.com)
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.