With just over three minutes remaining in the Lynden Christian boys’ basketball team’s Class 1A Bi-District winner-to-state game against Mount Baker on Saturday, Feb. 21, an errant ball headed for Lyncs coach Roger De Boer in front of the team’s bench.
Like any good coach, he showed off he quick reactions, catching the ball, and tossed it back in, joking, “Hey, I’m open!”
Well Coach, that would have given the Lyncs six on the court. Though at times, it definitely seemed like LC had at least that many on the floor, especially when they ran their three-quarter court trap on defense.
“Last time we played them we had a lot of success with the press, so we were going to try to do that for this game to see if we could get them a little rattled,” Lyncs junior guard Zach Roetcisoender said. “The first half they handled it pretty well, but we also didn’t execute it very well. I think that’s what we did in the second half. We didn’t get so anxious. We kind of sat back and let them make the mistakes rather than force it too much.”
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Lynden Christian quite literally stole a trip away from Mount Baker, forcing the Mountaineers into 21 turnovers, 15 of which came via the steal, as the Lyncs pulled away late for a 66-56 victory in a game that was a physical test of wills and much closer than the 10-point margin might indicate.
The victory sends LC (15-8) to the Class 1A State Tournament for the fourth time in six years. After missing out on a trip last year, they’ll wait until Sunday, Feb. 21, to hear who they will be playing next weekend, when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association releases the draw for the regional round of the tournament. They’ll enter as the Northwest District’s No. 2 seed.
“No one has given them the credit all year — they know that,” said De Boer, who admitted to being a little emotional after the state-clinching victory. “They know that we may not have the most talent, but they work so hard. They had so much drive, and we’ve been through so much as a team, with guys getting injured. To see them rewarded for their efforts, it’s just something that as a coach when you’ve seen the effort and the price they’ve paid, it’s just super rewarding.”
Mount Baker (9-18), meanwhile saw it’s season come to a close. The good news for the Mountaineers, though, is Colton Ranson is the only senior on the team’s roster — in fact he was the only senior boy involved in winter sports at the school this year, coach Rob Gray said.
Gray hopes his young team can use Saturday’s experience as a place to start building for next year.
“Hopefully this hurts enough that when they wake up in the morning they want to do things to make themselves better so they won’t be in this situation next year,” the coach said.
Not that the Mountaineers had anything to be ashamed with in their play Saturday. In fact, quite the contrary as they were extremely efficient throughout the game hitting 22 of 46 shots.
With 4:24 to play, they trailed by only one after Keenan Gray hit a 3-pointer to make it 53-52.
But LC answered with a 3 from Blake Mellema — his third of the game — to stretch the lead back to four.
That started a 7-0 run by the Lyncs that gave them the breathing room they would need.
Defense was part of the run, as Roetcisoender recorded his fourth steal of the game before hitting a jumper to make it 60-52 with 3:46 to play.
“The thing that stands out defensively was at some point we wanted to wear them down and to get more possessions,” De Boer said. “Thank goodness we got a few more possessions, because they made the most of the possessions they had. They were incredibly efficient tonight. ... That was a war — a war down to the end. We had just a little bit more at the end. I think our defense was responsible for that.”
Franzen ended up matching Roetcisoender with four steals, but seven Lyncs in all recorded at least one.
LC also had four players score in double figures, led by Roetcisoender with 17. Mellema chipped in a 16 points, giving the Lyncs an extra scoring threat that De Boer said was crucial in the win. Mellema also had a team-high eight rebounds. Joining them in double figures were Fransen with 14 points and Jake Poag with 10.
Mount Baker was led by Bass’ double-double, as he finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Ranson finished his career with 10 points, matching Timothy Soares’ total, while Balvanz finished with nine.
“We really struggled to be successful in the summer and the early part of the season,” Gray said. “People look at records too much in this league, especially when you’re a 1A. It’s a process. We got ourselves in position to advance, and then we did, and then another position to advance, and we did. Then we got in this position today. I’m excited about the opportunities for these guys, because they’ve got this experience and they’ll be back.”
Lynden Christian, meanwhile, looks forward to what awaits next week — and possibly the week after.
“We’ve believed always,” Roetcisoender said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity, but we always believed. I think that was the difference between last year and this year. We are one strong team together. We all worked for the same goal together, and we all desired for the same goal.”
Lynden Christian 66, Mount Baker 56
Mount Baker: Keenan Gray 6, Jed Schleimer 2, Mason Bass 0, Sam Stargell 0, Colton Ranson 10, Carson Engholm 0, Thomas Barbo 4, TJ Bass 15, Grant Balvanz 9, Timothy Soares 10. Totals: 22-46 7-11 56.
Lynden Christian: Blake Mellema 16, Josiah Meppelink 0, Lucas Roetcisoender 0, Jake Van Berkum 2, Tanner Bouma 7, Jake Poag 10, Zach Roetcisoender 17, Nate Hielkema 0, Grant Rubbert 0, Cody Fransen 14, George De Jong 0. Totals: 23-55 14-23 66.
3-point field goals — Mount Baker: 5 (Gray 2, Ranson 2); Lynden Christian: 6 Mellema 3). Rebounds — Mount Baker: 32 (TJ Bass 13); Lynden Christian: 37 (Mellema 8). Assists — Mount Baker: 9 (Gray 3, Soares 3); Lynden Christian: 10 (Poag 2, Fransen 2). Fouls — Mount Baker: 18; Lynden Christian: 15. Turnovers — Mount Baker: 21; Lynden Christian: 9.