Cashmere's defense was smothering - bordering impenetrable - in the Class 1A state semifinals on March 7.
The Lynden Christian girls' basketball team mustered 20 points through nearly 29 minutes of play, and it faced a 26-20 deficit against an unbeaten team that looked every bit poised for a state championship.
Empty possession after empty possession continued for the Lyncs. That was until Courtney Hollander, Lynden Christian's senior guard, found an open Kara Bajema on the wing for a contested 3-pointer.
Again in the Lyncs' next possession, Bajema hit another 3-pointer to tie it. Cashmere looked vulnerable, watching for a third consecutive trip as she sunk the dagger - a third straight 3-pointer, all but sealing Lynden Christian's berth into the state championship where it would defeat King's 55-40 for the program's 10th title.
"That game, as a team, was one of the best games ever, and one of the best feelings ever," Bajema said in a phone interview. "I just remember everybody going crazy, and I was going crazy. It was an intense feeling."
Bajema, a sophomore, played beyond her years, said Curt De Haan, the now former girls' basketball coach at Lynden Christian who retired after a 34-year career that consisted of eight titles and 772 wins - the most wins by any varsity girls' basketball coach in Washington state history. After the game, De Haan said there was a simplicity to the 6-foot-1 sophomore's game. She scores, he explained, and when the Lyncs' chances of winning a 10th championship in program history looked bleak, she did just that.
"She's always been a pretty decent outside shooter, and she came up big with her outside shots in several key situations," De Haan said in a phone interview.
For that instrumental role on Lynden Christian's state championship winning team, Bajema has been chosen as The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Basketball Player of the Year. She led the Lyncs with a 13.3 points per game average, and her 13 points against King's in the state title game was a team-high.
De Haan was selected the All-Whatcom County Coach of the Year after leading the Lyncs to a 25-2 record, a state title and a Northwest Conference crown.
Bajema's accolades continued to pour in at season's end, as she was voted to the Class 1A Associated Press All-State first team to go along with her 1A MVP at the Hardwood Classic.
With her high school career just beginning, Bajema has emerged as someone unfazed by the big moment. Cashmere is well aware of that, but this year's state semifinal game isn't the only time she's helped hand the Bulldogs a stinging loss.
It happened her freshman year, too, in a game on Dec. 27, 2012.
"In the last couple seconds, Sally (Vlas) was bringing it up. Courtney saw me right at the end waving my hand, and I had a mid-range jumper," Bajema said. "I shot it right as the buzzer rang. ... Having the parents there, it was a cool feeling. Courtney's pass was crazy."
It's become her calling card of sorts, and Cashmere isn't the only team aware of her late-game heroics. Ferndale, which advanced to the regional round of state in Class 3A this year, looked primed to hand the Lyncs their only conference loss with less than a minute remaining in their matchup on Jan. 21.
A Bajema 3-pointer with 31 seconds to go left a Golden Eagles' crowd stunned and silenced, prefacing what she would do as Lynden Christian made its state run.
"I just try to not think of too many things at once," said Bajema when asked about dealing with late-game pressure. "I'm always trying to be focused when I'm on the court - game-faced and ready for everything and every opportunity that strikes."
And while De Haan made mention of the simplicity in which she plays the game, he also acknowledged the versatility she offered while on the court.
That was evident in parts of December as the Lyncs were without Hollander, who was sidelined with an injured knee for several games.
"I think other aspects of her game have matured," De Haan said. "She's one of our top two in a lot of categories - steals, blocked shots. She's got a lot of games with several assists, and with the absence of Courtney, she stepped up her game."
And her continued presence for the Lyncs in the years to come will help make up for the losses of Hollander, Vlas, Karley De Jager and De Haan.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.