LYNDEN - If one stood on the other's shoulders, they'd still only be about eye level with the basket, but 5-foot, 5-inch sophomore Makayla Lancaster and 5-6 junior Sally Vlas certainly played big for the Lynden Christian girls' basketball team on Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the semifinals of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament.
Lancaster and Vlas used their hustle and speed to each record four steals, leading the Lyncs to 14 thefts in the game and helping force Nooksack Valley into 25 total turnovers in Lynden Christian's 43-37 victory.
The win sends the Lyncs (19-3) to the district championship game against King's, which beat Blaine 33-32 on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mountlake Terrace High School. A win in that game would automatically qualify LC for the regional round of the state tournament - the program's ninth straight trip to the Sweet 16.
Nooksack Valley's hopes of making state are still alive, but the road got a little longer for the Pioneers (14-8), who now drop into the consolation bracket and must win two straight elimination games to advance to the tri-district tournament. First up will be Mount Baker in a 7 p.m. game on Friday, Feb. 8, at Nooksack Valley.
One thing the Pioneers know they must do a better job of is handling the pressure.
"I knew they were going to press, and I thought they did a good job of that again tonight," Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers said. "Sometimes we let the pressure get to us, and we ended up making bad passes."
Two key components to that pressure were Lancaster and Vlas, who always seemed to be in the face of Pioneer ball handlers. And when they weren't, they were often able to get a jump on a pass to start a run in the other direction.
"It was a lot of fun out there playing with Makayla tonight," Vlas said. "She did a good job of pressuring and getting reads on where they were going. ... We wanted to keep the pressure on them and let that get our offense going."
LC's defensive energy was particularly surprising, Vlas said, because a number of players are battling illness.
"It was tough out there tonight, but we all found a way to grit through it," she said.
No time was that better shown than in the fourth quarter, after Nooksack Valley had trimmed Lynden Christian's once double-figure lead to 40-37 with 2:26 to play on a Melissa Stadt bucket off an assist from Lauren Dykstra.
On the Pioneers' next possession, Courtney Hollander came up with a steal in the corner, resulting in Karley De Jager's third-chance put back to stretch the advantage back to five.
Lancaster then came up with a steal on Nooksack's next possession, and though it didn't result in any points, it allowed the Lyncs to work the clock. Courtney Hollander's free throw with 24.4 seconds left on the Lyncs' next possession virtually locked up the game.
"I think our full-court press was definitely effective in throwing them off balance a little tonight," LC coach Curt De Haan said. "Our guards really played really aggressive, and we were able to create some key turnovers."
That wasn't the only place the Lyncs shined defensively, though.
LC also managed to limit Stadt to 13 points and only two in the fourth quarter - a big difference from the 20 she scored in the first meeting, won 38-37 by LC on Jan. 26.
Kayla Tiemersma shut her out in the first quarter, not allowing her to get the ball in good shooting position in the paint.
"Kayla did a great job early before she hurt her hand a little there," De Haan said. "We brought Sara Dougan in, and she did a good job, and we even used Courtney Hollander in there, and she had some key defensive stops there late."
Tiemersma, who plans to play for Whatcom Community College next year, led the Lyncs with 13 points, nine of which came in the first quarter, as LC was able to open a 14-6 lead.
Nooksack Valley managed to close that to a four-point margin by halftime, but an 8-0 run spurred by a pair of Kassidy Aldrich 3-pointers helped LC build a 36-24 advantage late in the third quarter.
"Against good teams like this, you can't afford to fall behind like we did tonight," Wichers said. "We kept battling back, but each time it took so much energy out of us."
Stadt pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds to go with her 13 points, while Kaycee DeBruin, Lindsay Hayes, Julie Campos and Mariah Perry all scored five points.
In addition to her four steals, Lancaster finished with eight points, while Vlas had four and three assists. Kara Bajema finished with five points, while Aldrich had six.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 43, NOOKSACK VALLEY 37
Nooksack Valley 6 11 12 8 - 37
Lynden Christian 14 7 15 7 - 43
Nooksack Valley: Kaycee DeBruin 5, Taryn Tenkley 0, Payton Linville 0, Lauren Dykstra 0, Lindsay Hayes 5, Julie Campos 5, Mariah Perry 5, Lindy Swanson 2, Morgan Perry 2, Cheyanna Maxwell 0, Melissa Stadt 13. Team totals: 12-37 11-13 37.
Lynden Christian: Makayla Lancaster 8, Kara Bajema 5, Courtney Hollander 3, Sally Vlas 4, Kassidy Aldrich 6, Karley De Jager 4, Sara Dougan 0, Kayla Tiemersma 13. Team totals: 17-46 5-11 43.
3-ptg: Nooksack Valley 2 (DeBruin, Campos), Lynden Christian 4 (Aldrich 2). Rebounds: Nooksack Valley 30 (Stadt 14), Lynden Christian 26 (De Jager 4, Dougan 4, Tiemersma 4). Assists: Nooksack Valley 8 (Mariah Perry 3), Lynden Christian 9 (Vlas 3). Fouls: Nooksack Valley 15, Lynden Christian 16. Turnovers: Nooksack Valley 25, Lynden Christian 18.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.