MOUNT VERNON - Unlike their counterparts on the girls' basketball team, the Lynden boys have been here a time or two before - at least the program has.
This is certainly not the same Lynden team that won a Class 2A state title in 2012 and advanced to the state semifinals last year.
It has its own identity.
And now, it has its own district championship.
Spurred by a pair of 3-pointers from Jalani Phelps in the third quarter and some great hustle on the defensive end of the court, Lynden came back to beat Lake Washington 57-53 on Saturday, Feb. 22, in the 2A Bi-District Tournament championship game.
"This has been a group that at times has been a little bit of a struggle, even though we've won a lot of games," Lions coach Brian Roper said. "We've had a number of guys finding new roles. That happens when you graduate five starters. It's really satisfying that this group has pulled together and built their own identity."
Lynden hopes to continue to shape that identity next week when it heads to the regional round of the state tournament.
As the No. 1 seed out of the bi-district, Lynden (19-3) is guaranteed to stay close to home, and could end up playing a double-header with the Lynden girls, who also won a district title, under the WIAA's new regional format.
The boys will face a school the Lions always seem to see come playoff time - District 3 No. 5 seed Sumner. The time and site for that game will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 23.
"We're excited to move on, and we think we're playing our best basketball at the right time," Roper said.
And this year, that means wearing an opponent down with physical, hustling play, just like they did to the Kangaroos on Saturday.
Lake Washington jumped out to any early lead in the first half when a number of its shots, both inside and outside, were falling. The Kangaroos shot a respectable 10 for 22 in the first half as they build a 32-25 halftime advantage. Kelly Guy led the attack, scoring 10 of his game-high 20 points in the second quarter.
But Lynden didn't panic and stuck to its game plan.
"Because of our physical style of play, we can wear teams down a little bit," Roper said. "Some of those shots they were hitting early maybe aren't going to be there with the same rhythm later on. We talk a lot about what we call a 32-minute grind. We're going to be on you for 32 minutes."
And in the second half, that grind began to wear on the Kangaroos, who went 4 for 11 from the field in the third quarter and 4 for 18 in the fourth.
Lynden meanwhile started to heat up.
Phelps drained his first 3 with 4:20 to play in the third to pull the Lions within two, 36-34, and one possession later, Jordan Wittenberg tied it up.
After Lake Washington retook the lead, Phelps hit is second trey to give Lynden its first lead of the game, 39-38, with 1:54 left in the period.
"Rope always says shoot with confidence, and that's exactly what I did," said Phelps, who isn't known as a 3-point shooter. "I caught the ball. I don't shoot 3s very much. I've been practicing them a little more than normal, and the ball came to me and I shot went with confidence and luckily it went in."
The Kangaroos retook the lead heading the fourth, but Scott Hastings, who finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, gave the lead back to Lynden on the first possession of the fourth, and the Lions never gave it back.
Thanks to back-to-back fast-break lay-ups by Wittenberg, Lynden was able to build a 52-45 lead midway through the quarter, but Lake Washington kept things interesting when Drew Heimdahl hit a 3 to cut it to 56-53 with 26.5 seconds left.
After the Lions missed a pair of free throws, Heimdahl had a shot to tie it, but his shot was off the mark and Jaremy Martin corralled the rebound and made a free throw to ice the game.
"I thought there were some times where we were able to make some real hustle plays, whether it was getting on the floor or tipping it away," Roper said. During the second half we seemed to be the quicker team, and that was the opposite of the first half."
Sterling Somers led Lynden with 17 points and had four rebounds, while Martin and Phelps each scored eight.
"We've had some adversity with Scooter going down, and we've struggled in a few games," Phelps said. "For us to come through these last couple of game and knowing that we're improving, we're excited to go to regionals and hopefully on to regionals."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286
MOVING ON TO THE REGIONALS
School Class Opponent
Lynden 2A Sumner
Sehome 2A Mark Morris
Ferndale 3A Prairie/Woodrow Wilson winner
Bellingham 2A Chehalis W.F. West
Lynden 2A Kingston/Olympic winner
Blaine 1A Woodland
Lynden Christian 1A Freeman/Okanogan winner
LYNDEN 57, LAKE WASHINGTON 53
Lake Wash. 17 15 11 10 - 53
Lynden 11 14 17 15 - 57
Lake Washington: Wonjun Im 5, Jeff Staudacher 10, Quentin Moore 6, Drew Heimdahl 12, Kelly Guy 20, Austin Glenn 0, Sahil Basra 0, Neema Hodaie 0. Team totals: 18-55 8-12 53.
Lynden: Jordan Wittenberg 6, Parker Harrison 2, Sterling Somers 17, Trey Shagren 3, Jaremy Martin 8, Scott Hastings 13, Jalani Phelps 8. Team totals: 19-43 16-29 57.
3-ptg: Lake Washington 9 (Staudacher 3), Lynden 3 (Phelps 2). Rebounds: Lake Washington 32 (Hodaie 6), Lynden 33 (Hastings 13). Assists: Lake Washington 6 (Guy 2), Lynden 5 (Phelps 2). Fouls: Lake Washington 25 (Guy, Glenn fouled out), Lynden 16. Turnovers: Lake Washington 15, Lynden 5.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.