Center Sam Van Loo went from first-half cheerleader to second-half heroine in Lynden Christian’s 56-53 win over Northwest Conference rival Lynden on Thursday.
“Sam was a great teammate tonight,” point guard Avery Dykstra said of Van Loo’s loud first-half encouragement of her backup, sophomore Grace Sterk. “And she was a game-changer.”
After not taking a shot in the first quarter and sitting out the second period with three fouls, Van Loo displayed how valuable she is for the top-ranked Class 1A Lyncs (14-1, 8-0 NWC) with 12 points in the second half including eight in the fourth quarter.
“Grace just did a great job,” Van Loo said of Sterk’s 4-for-8 shooting for nine points in the second and third periods to stay within rally distance of the fifth-ranked Class 2A Lions (11-4, 5-3). “I tried to encourage her all I could.”
Van Loo is poised
Van Loo, a 6-foot-1 junior, was whistled with foul No. 4 two minutes into the second half, but coach Brady Bomber decided to leave her in, given all of Van Loo’s experience for the defending state champion Lyncs.
A muscle shot by Van Loo and Emmalee Bailey’s 3-pointer pulled the Lyncs within 40-38 in the final minute of the third quarter. Dykstra then opened the fourth quarter with two free throws and teammate Isabela Hernandez also hit twice from the line for a 42-40 lead.
Lynden’s Natalie Amos responded by hitting three consecutive shots – the Lions’ lone baskets of the fourth quarter – and created the final tie at 48-48.
The big plays
Hernandez scored after Amos’ first fourth-quarter hoop, quickly followed by Van Loo’s muscle shot on a pass from Torina Hommes and Dykstra’s steal and layup.
Then it was time for the Van Loo and Dykstra show – a Van Loo follow for a 50-48 lead, a Van Loo drive on Dykstra’s pass and Dykstra’s two free throws for a 54-50 lead with 13 seconds remaining after Lauren Zwiers kept the Lions in the hunt with two shots from the line with 14 seconds left.
Van Loo then wrapped it up with a block and a theft on the same play, followed by two free throws for 56-50 with 5.4 seconds remaining.
Lynden’s big effort
There were 43 fouls including 22 by Lynden in the intense game. Faith Dut, a 6-4 sophomore center, shot 6 for 7 with 12 points in the first half and 15 in all for Lynden. Elisa Kooiman finished with 11 points for the Lions and Amos had 10, but Lynden Christian’s Hernandez and Dykstra offset them with 11 points apiece to go with a dozen by Van Loo, who shot 4 for 5 from both the field and the free-throw line. Bailey proved invaluable with seven points and three steals.
“It was just sheer resilience,” Bomber said of his team’s comeback. “We told the girls we were going to fight (after falling nine points down) and we did.”