It ended the way it was supposed to. With 10 seniors who dreamed of ending their high school careers holding the golden ball, the Lynden boys basketball team accomplished its goal Saturday night with a resounding 60-51 victory over Selah to win the Class 2A state championship for the second year in a row.
“Ever since our freshman year we’ve been dreaming of winning it as seniors,” said senior Christian Zamora. “It’s crazy that it happened.”
“It’s amazing,” said senior Kobe Elsner. “To end high school with a championship … it’s the best feeling.”
After cutting down the nets for the second straight year and winning the school’s 10th boys state championship, all that was left was to receive the love from — and get pictures taken with — all their family, friends and fans in Yakima’s SunDome.
“It’s like the whole town of Lynden was here,” said Zamora. “And it made us play harder.”
It’s hard to believe the Lions, who finished the year 26-1, could have played any harder than they’ve done the last month. After suffering their only defeat at the end of January, they’ve made a habit of holding opponents to record lows and winning going away.
But Saturday was going to be different, because their opponent was Selah. The Vikings, led by Pepper brothers Elijah and Noah, were supposed to meet Lynden last year but were upset in the quarterfinals. This year, it was the showdown everybody expected.
“It was like it was meant to be against Selah,” said senior Clayton Whitman. “It was what we wanted. It was almost like a storybook.”
When the Lions used their height to dominate the boards and their defense to shut down Selah in the first half, it looked like it was going to be a storybook ending. The Lions led 40-20 midway through the third period and Lynden fans were ready to order championship t-shirts.
But Elijah Pepper — the all-state senior guard — wasn’t ready to end his career with a loss either. After scoring only six in the first half, he drove through the Lions pressure defense and hit two NBA 3-pointers to rally the Vikings to within five at 50-45 with five minutes to go.
Another team might have been nervous. Another team might have felt the pressure. Another team might have felt their throats constrict.
But Selah wasn’t playing another team. They were playing the Lynden Lions and their 10 seniors.
“Everyone kept their poise,” said senior Blake Silves of being in close games. “We’ve done it before. We knew what was needed to win.”
Poise was needed … and so was some good old fashion defense. The Pepper brothers missed two shots, the Lions got several defensive and offensive rebounds and when Brock Heppner — a junior who made a big difference Saturday — scored inside, the Lions got the momentum back.
Senior James March added a layup with 1:52 to go to put Lynden up by nine, and when Elijah Pepper fouled out six seconds later, the Vikings’ comeback chances went to the bench with him.
All that was left was to hit some free throws. Elsner and Zamora hit two each in the final minute and it was time to celebrate.
“They (the seniors) don’t get shook up,” said Lynden coach Brian Roper, who can add this year’s title to ones his Lynden teams won in 2007, 2012 and, of course, 2018. “They just came out and played. It wasn’t our smoothest game, but they stayed really positive.”
As they have all season, Whitman and Zamora led Lynden in scoring with 19 and 13 points, respectively. They also helped the Lions dominated the boards, 39-28, with Zamora grabbing 11 and Whitman nine.
But when Selah decided to focus its defense attention on the two Lynden stars, Whitman and Zamora were happy to pass the ball, combining for seven assists. And others came through.
Elsner, the point guard who would rather pass to a scorer than shoot, was 4 of 5 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point land for 11 points.
Marsh, who would rather rebound and knock someone around on defense, hit half his eight shots for eight points.
And Heppner, the 6-foot-1 forward who likes to think he’s five inches taller, came off the bench to battle inside for six rebounds and seven points. He was needed in the paint when the Lions’ top inside backup, Dakota Baar, was hurt taking an offensive charging foul and had to celebrate while on crutches.
Elijah Pepper, who was injured early in the season when the Vikings (20-6) suffered four of their five losses including a 27-point loss to Lynden in December, finished with 20 points. Sophomore little brother Noah Pepper had 15. But the two missed 23 shots and only hit three 3-pointers.
“He’s an amazing player,” said Silves, who was called to defend Elijah Pepper when the Lions went man-to-man.
“He’s going to make some shots. But we wanted to make it as hard as possible on him. And we did that for the most part.”
So all that was left was to pass out the honors and the praise.
All-state tournament: Whitman was named MVP and Zamora was second team.
Seniors ending their careers with a state championship: Dakota Baar, Carson Bode, Kobe Elsner, Jacob Kettels, James Marsh, Carter Parcher, Blake Silves, Elijah VanderHaak, Clayton Whitman and Christian Zamora. (Also on the team were junior Brock Heppner and sophomore Liam Hanenburg.)
Praise from coach Roper: “Our coaching staff is like a team. Every guy contributes in different ways. I want to give a shout out to those guys.” Well, here you go, coach. The Lynden assistant coaches are Mike Elsner, Brian Heppner, Rod TenKley, Blake VanDalen and Kent Victor. Great job, coaches.
In fact, great job to all the Lions. It really did end the way it was supposed to.
Lynden 60, Selah 51
Lynden 14 18 14 14 — 60
Selah 10 6 18 17 — 51
Lynden: Kobe Elsner 11, Blake Silves, James Marsh 8, Clayton Whitman 19, Brock Heppner 7, Carson Bode, Dakota Baar 2, Christian Zamora 13, Elijah VanderHaak, Carter Parcher, Liam Hanenburg.
Selah: Calvin Herting 9, Shad Smith 4, Wil Middlebrooks 3, Noah Pepper 15, Cooper Quigley, Elijah Pepper 20.
Shooting: FG—Lyn 23-57 40.4, Sel 19-50 38.0; FT—Lyn 6-9 66.7, Sel 9-10 90.0; 3 PT—Lyn 8-24 (Elsner 2, Whitman 3, Zamora 2, Heppner 1), Sel 4-16 25.0 (Herting 1, N. Pepper 1, E. Pepper 2). Rebounds: Lyn 39 (Zamora 11, Whitman 9), Sel 28 (N. Pepper 8, E. Pepper 8). Fouls: Lyn 16, Sel 15 (E. Pepper). Assists:. Lyn 14 (Zamora 4), Sel 7 (E. Pepper 3). Turnovers: Lyn 12, Sel 11. Blocks: Lyn 3 (Whitman 2), Sel 4 (N. Pepper 2, E. Pepper 2).
Steals: Lyn 5 (Bode 2, Marsh 2), Sel 2 (Herting 1, E. Pepper 1).
CLASS 2A BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
#3 North Kitsap 59, #6 Clarkston 51
#10 Anacortes 44, #15 Black Hills 38 (loser out)
#14 Liberty (Issaquah) 49, #11 Steilacoom 48 (loser out)
#13 Renton 55, #12 Mark Morris 53 (loser out)
#9 Fife 51, #16 Olympic 45 (loser out)
#7 Selah 68, #2 Columbia River 61
#5 Pullman 69, #4 Burlington-Edison 68
#1 Lynden 71, #8 Franklin Pierce 34
At Yakima SunDome
State play-in games (Wednesday)
Clarkston 49, Liberty (Issaquah) 41 (loser out)
Columbia River 49, Anacortes 37 (loser out)
Renton 57, Burlington-Edison 52 (loser out)
Fife 52, Franklin Pierce 43 (loser out)
Pullman 64, Clarkston 52 OT
Lynden 52, Columbia River 40
Renton 56, North Kitsap 51
Selah 72, Fife 59
Consolation semifinals (Friday)
Clarkston 47, Columbia River 40 (loser out)
North Kitsap 69, Fife 56 (loser out)
Lynden 52, Pullman 40
Selah 61, Renton 56
Fourth-sixth place game (Saturday)
Clarkston 50, North Kitsap 32 (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Consolation final (Saturday)
Renton 61, Pullman 42 (winner third, loser fifth)
Championship game (Saturday)
Lynden 60, Selah 51 (winner first, loser second)
(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.