It’s rare for the Lynden boys basketball team to go into a league game as anything but the heavy favorite. Having a wall full of state championship banners and top-three finishes in eight of the past nine state tournaments will do that.
But when the Lions hosted Sehome on Monday, Jan. 3, it was the Mariners who were ranked higher, which made Lynden’s 62-44 victory that much more impressive … and unexpected.
“We approached it like we were the underdogs,” said senior Jordan Medcalf, one of only three Lions with state experience after last year’s playoff-less COVID season. “This was a big step for us. The band was here. It was a good environment for all our new players.”
There was a lot of excitement and a good crowd for the showdown, but both teams were at a disadvantage coming into the game.
Lynden, ranked fourth in the District 1 Class 2A standings, was missing one of its top scorers and rebounders, Anthony Canales. Sehome, ranked second, has been dealing with lots of sickness and was barely able to practice during the break.
The Lions didn’t miss Canales on this night. They used an 18-4 second-quarter blitz to take control and never let the Mariners into the game in the second half. The victory raised Lynden’s record to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Northwest Conference.
Sehome, however, looked like it was still recovering. The Mariners had been averaging almost 70 points a game but didn’t hit a 3-pointer until the contest was out of reach in the fourth quarter; were outrebounded by the smaller Lions, 32-29; and had nine more turnovers.
“We’re looking forward to getting back on track,” said Sehome coach Skyler Gillispie, whose team has now lost two in a row after starting the season with a six-game winning streak. “They played really well, and we didn’t. We hope to play them in the future (in the playoffs).”
Longtime Lynden coach Brian Roper understands that some games just don’t go the way you want.
“They’re a better than they showed tonight,” Roper said of the Mariners, who fell to 4-2 in the NWC. “I know we didn’t get their A game. But I was pleased with our effort and aggressiveness. We showed some grit tonight.”
The Lions’ grit showed especially on defense. While it was a team effort with point guards Kaleo Jandoc and Coston Parcher shutting down the outside shooters, Kobe Baar keeping Sehome’s Grant Kepley in check, and Medcalf soaring for 12 rebounds, the key was the play of senior post Dawson Adams.
Despite giving up four inches and maybe 50 pounds to Sehome big man Gavin Ortega, Adams not only shut down Ortega after the first quarter but tossed in 8 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and hauled down 6 rebounds.
“He’s a really good player,” the 6-foot-1 Adams said of Ortega. “He’s bigger, so I had to use what little quickness I had to beat him to his spots. We knew we had to play well. We have to play defense like this every night.”
The other things the Lions did well were protect the ball — they only had three turnovers — and share the ball. They had 13 assists, with Parcher collecting 4 assists to go along with his 12 points.
Medcalf led the way and set the tone with 14 points in the first half and 16 for the game. Baar added 9 points, and Jandoc had 8.
For the Mariners, junior Mathew Storms had 13 points, Kepley added 9 points, and fellow junior Isaac Lawrence came off the bench to score 8 points, including two 3-pointers. Ortega, the Mariners’ only senior, led Sehome with 7 rebounds.
While all the Lynden faithful enjoyed the game, probably nobody enjoyed the day more than Roper. Earlier on Monday, his daughter gave birth to the Ropers’ second grandchild.
“A big win and a healthy granddaughter,” said the proud grandpa. “That’s a good day.”
The Mariners’ next action is Wednesday when they host Anacortes. The Lions are off until Friday when they travel to Squalicum.
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.