MOUNT VERNON - The midcourt smiles from the Lynden Christian girls' basketball team were genuine. The celebration and the shouts of glee coming from its locker room were as real as they get.
Though the victory came at Mount Vernon High School, rather than in the Yakima Valley SunDome, the Lyncs will most definitely take their 56-42 victory over Freeman on Saturday, March 1, in the regional round of the Class 1A State Tournament.
It's a win that's been five years in the making.
"We have a lot of siblings - my sister and two others (on the team) have sisters and some have cousins that have played (Freeman) in the past and lost in the finals and the semifinals," Lyncs sophomore Kara Bajema said. "They're a big rival of ours."
And understandably so.
Three times in the past four years, the Scotties ended Lynden Christian's title aspirations - twice in the state semifinals in 2010 and 2012 sandwiched around a 44-32 Freeman win in the 2011 1A state title game.
Seeing the Scotties in the first round had to be a bit terrifying for the Lyncs, especially considering they won the District 1/2/3 title last week and earned the right to face a No. 4 seed - a No. 4 seed that just happened to be from the always tough District 6/7. Call it luck of the draw.
"We knew that District 6 and 7, since 2008 when we won state, they've won state every year since," LC coach Curt De Haan said. "We know when we get a matchup from 6/7, we get a real quality opponent. We had a fairly easy game last year in this game. We talked to the kids about how getting a good solid opponent could give us confidence going into next week. But we knew we'd have to bring our A game today."
The Lyncs definitely did that, as they got 16 points and nine rebounds from Bajema and a strong game from Karley De Jager coming off the bench to get the win.
The result is another trip to the SunDome. The Lyncs (22-3) receive a No. 1 seed into the state quarterfinals and await the WIAA's draw on Sunday afternoon, March 2, to find out who they will face on Thursday, March 6, in the Hardwood Classic.
"Freeman is a very good team, and I think this gave us a good confidence boost to go into some other tough games at state and knowing we could do it," LC senior De Jager said.
It didn't take long to discover exactly how Lynden Christian was going to get the better of the Scotties this time around.
The moment 6-foot-4 Sara Dougan stepped into the center circle and had to look down at the player she was jumping against, who was a full head shorter, it was obvious the Scotties were going to have to, quite literally, play above their heads. Just about every other LC player on the court had a similar height advantage - OK, 5-5 Makayla Lancaster didn't, but she was at least looking Freeman's 5-5 Mikaela Pilant eye-to-eye.
"It's always an advantage," said the 6-1 Bajema. "I can use my athletic ability to get those height rebounds and shoot over people."
Bajema certainly used her long arms to grab her share of the boards, but she was far from the only one. Courtney Hollander matched her with nine rebounds and Dougan finished with eight, as the Lyncs out-rebounded Freeman 43-22. As a result, the Lyncs got 15 second-chance points to Freeman's two.
Bajema also used her height to see over defenders on the perimeter, allowing her to spot up along the left baseline for two of her three 3-pointers in the first half.
"We've benefited from our height all year," Bajema said. "We're very blessed to have it."
But height was far from the only advantage Lynden Christian had on Saturday.
"We felt one through nine that we were stronger than them," De Haan said. "We know they like to get up and down the floor, and we felt with our depth on the bench we felt a fast-paced game would be to our advantage."
The Lyncs got 18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals from their four reserves.
Of course it's a whole lot easier to pile up those kinds of numbers when you actually bring a starter off the bench.
De Jager usually starts, but she said she "bummed my shoulder a few weeks ago, and I had to have the mental approach to come off the bench today."
It didn't take her long to get her mind or body into the game, as Dougan picked up a pair of first-quarter fouls, forcing De Haan to call on his senior.
De Jager said she actually appreciated the opportunity to come off the bench, where she said she not only worked to keep her teammates pumped up and in the game, she also got to see the action from a different perspective.
"I got to watch the game first and see how the different players work," she said. "I like it a little bit, because when I come in, I know what people's tendencies are."
She took advantage of her scouting report to score four second-quarter points, before recording eight quick points in the third to help the Lyncs stretch what was a 31-21 halftime advantage to a 43-23 margin midway through the period.
"That was crazy," De Jager said of the run. "I think we were just getting into our zone, and we were transitioning. We were playing LC ball, definitely."
De Jager was far from the only Lync to have a strong game off the bench. Kassady Aldrich hit a big 3-pointer and picked up two of her three assists during Lynden Christian's crucial second-quarter run to take control of the game. Hannah Hollander scored two points and had a pair of rebounds, and Morgan Van Kooten also had a rebound.
Add those numbers to the impressive performances by LC's big players - Courtney Hollander scored nine, while Dougan had seven - and solid contributions on both ends of the court from starting guards Lancaster and Sally Vlas, and it's easy to say De Haan got the "A game" he was seeking from his team.
But Freeman didn't let LC off the hook so easily.
"It's just a tribute to their program," De Haan said. "Even though we got leads on them, they just battled back. Their girls have been in a lot of big games, and I thought our girls responded well today."
A 12-2 run by the Scotties to end the third pulled them within 10 at the end of the third quarter.
But the Lyncs simply wouldn't allow them to get back within single digits, as they held Freeman to seven points on 2 for 8 shooting in the final quarter.
Katie Vold led the Scotties with 16 points, and Sierra McGarity had eight
"We played our game today, and I think that will be good for us going to state," De Jager said.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 56, FREEMAN 42
Freeman 10 11 14 7 - 42
Lynden Christian 12 19 14 11 - 56
Freeman: Mikaela Pilant 3, Katie Vold 16, Anna Lee 3, Haley Burke 6, Sydney Sather 6, Sierra McGarity 8, Addy Clark 0. Team totals: 12-42 12-13 42.
Lynden Christian: Makayla Lancaster 2, Haley Hollander 2, Kara Bajema 18, Courtney Hollander 9, Sally Vlas 2, Kassidy Aldrich 4, Karley De Jager 12, Sara Dougan 7, Morgan Van Kootan 0. Team totals: 23-52 6-12 56.
3-ptg: Freeman 6-17 (Sather 2), Lynden Christian 4-12 (Bajema 3). Rebounds: Freeman 22 (Vold 6), Lynden Christian 43 (Bajema 9, C. Hollander 9). Assists: Freeman 6 (S. McGarity 2), Lynden Christian 13 (C. Hollander 3, Vlas 3, Aldrich 3). Fouls: Freeman 11, Lynden Christian 15. Turnovers: Freeman 14, Lynden Christian 14.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.