LYNDEN - Courtney Hollander has done it a million times, taking free throw after free throw on the darkened wood at Lynden Christian High School.
So when it came time for the Seattle Pacific-bound guard for the Lyncs to ice the tightly fought game against city rival Lynden, she sunk both shots.
"That's just where practice comes in," she said. "We practice those every day, and this is our home court, so it's just like shooting in practice - all I have to do is drain every one out."
Her two free throws with 27.3 seconds left gave Lynden Christian (10-3, Northwest Conference 6-0) a 36-31 lead over Lynden (9-5, NWC 4-2), eventually leading to a 38-32 win over the Lions on Thursday, Jan. 16, at Lynden Christian High School.
Hollander finished with 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds. She also chipped in three assists, and nine of her 12 points came in the final quarter. Kara Bajema's presence was felt in nearly every facet, as she poured in 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, five steals and three blocks for the Lyncs.
On the other side, Lynden's Elisa Kooiman had 14 points and seven rebounds, while Stephanie Somers added nine points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
The tempo of the game immediately favored the Lyncs, whose full-court-trap defense forced Lynden into turnovers on four of its first six possessions. Bajema was at the heart of Lynden Christian's defensive pressure, corralling three consecutive steals that all led to uncontested layups.
"The trap we got them into forced some early turnovers that kind of got us going early," Lynden Christian coach Curt De Haan said. "Our transition was working well for us early in the game, and we were able to get some real good looks."
Ten first-quarter points by Bajema and six Lions turnovers put Lynden in a 17-10 hole heading into the second quarter. But as the Lyncs continued to try to force Lynden into turnovers, the Lions finally began to break Lynden Christian's pressure.
After two Lynden Christian baskets made it 21-14, Lynden went on a 7-0 run to end a second quarter that was capped by a 3-pointer from Kaitlyn Mark. Mark's lone 3 of the game brought the Lions to within one, 22-21, entering the half.
Somers, who entered the game averaging 15 points per game, finally got some rhythm on the offensive end after going 0 of 2 from the field in the first quarter. Her elusive driving layup sparked the run that brought Lynden back within one against the fifth-ranked team in Class 1A.
"They (Somers and Kooiman) both go in the flow of the game and let the game kind of come to them," Lynden coach Rob Adams said.
That rhythmic offensive fluency never quite found both teams in the third quarter.
Lynden followed up its 5-of-10 performance from the field in the second by going 1 for 9 from the field in the third. Likewise, Lynden Christian wasn't much better, shooting just 2 of 11, but the Lyncs still held a slight one-point lead, 26-25, entering the fourth.
All offensive struggles aside, Hollander said holding a team such as Lynden to a combined 11-for-31 shooting is what will pay dividends come playoff time.
"This whole season we've been trying to focus on man-to-man pressure and our defense," she said. "We know defense wins championships, and that's just what we have to focus on now."
De Haan made a switch to a half-court defense in the second half to try to stop Kooiman and Somers from getting to the basket.
Kooiman, who recorded an early basket in the third, recorded just four more points the rest of the way.
"The difference was they dictated to us defensively by taking us out of what we wanted to do," Adams said. "They came out and played very aggressively and intense, and we didn't execute."
Lynden turned the ball over on two of its first three offensive possessions of the fourth quarter, and the Lyncs' Sara Dougan and Hollander hit back-to-back baskets to widen the margin to 30-26. Hollander hit another jumper just moments later to give Lynden Christian a 33-26 lead - its biggest lead of the game since 17-8 in the first quarter - and a late 3-pointer by Somers proved to be too little, too late.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 38, LYNDEN 32
Lynden 10 11 4 7 - 32
LC 17 5 4 12 - 38
Lynden: Amanda Warner 0, Kira Nelson 0, Jasmyne Neria 4, Holly McKinley 0, Ashlyn Morgan 0, Elisa Kooiman 14, Kaitlyn Mark 5, Stephanie Somers 9. Team totals: 11-31 9-15 32.
LC: Makayla Lancaster 4, Haley Hollander 0, Kara Bajema 14, Courtney Hollander 12, Sally Vlas 2, Kassidy Aldrich 1, Karley De Jager 0, Sara Dougan 5, Morgan Van Kooten 0. Team totals: 14-49 8-11 38.
3-ptg: Lynden 2 (Kaitlyn Mark, Stephanie Somers 1), LC 0 (NA). Rebounds: Lynden 25 (Elisa Kooiman 7), LC 23 (Courtney Hollander 8). Assists: Lynden 4 (Kooiman, 2), LC 10 (Kara Bajema, 4). Fouls: Lynden 15 (NA), LC 15 (NA). Turnovers: Lynden 18, LC 9.