Lynden senior post Mariah Gonzalez displayed a ferocious tenacity, showing how much she wants to play at Class 2A state for the fourth year.
Lions freshman reserve Ruby VanderHaak showed how much she hungers to contribute, too.
Burlington-Edison, however, received excellent efforts from every starter, and that made the difference in the Tigers’ 54-50 win in the semifinals of the Northwest District Tournament on Monday at Mount Vernon High. Burlington thus clinched a spot in the 2A State Regionals and the district title game Saturday with its eighth consecutive victory.
The 5-foot-11 Gonzalez’s muscular inside game produced 8-of-9 shooting for 17 points, and she grabbed eight rebounds. VanderHaak, who averages about two points per game in spot duty, shot 5 for 6 from outside for 14 points, including three 3-pointers in the best production of her season.
WHAT IT MEANS
Lynden (16-5), which has four highly experienced seniors in its rotation, will play a loser-out consolation bracket semifinal game Wednesday at 7:30 on the same court against Liberty, which beat Cedarcrest, 61-60, late Monday night. Then, the Lions also must win the loser-out consolation final Friday to qualify for state, since the Northwest District will send only one team from the consolation bracket.
If Sehome (13-8) – a 45-43 consolation bracket winner over Sammamish on Monday at Skagit Valley College – can win Wednesday in the other consolation semifinal against either Anacortes or Archbishop Murphy, the Mariners may meet Northwest Conference rival Lynden, assuming the Lions remain alive.
“We can do it (win under the pressure of two loser-out games) if the right Lynden team shows up,” said Lions coach Rob Adams, who saw a five-game win streak snapped. “We’ve been up-and-down all season. … We have to hold ourselves accountable.”
TOUGH TIGER LINEUP
Lynden shot 21 for 46 from the field, but that was deceiving. Gonzalez “really showed up,” as Adams put it, and VanderHaak played like a senior on the offensive end. But the rest of the Lions endured 8-of-31 shooting miseries and could not catch up again after Burlington junior Allyson Ray’s 3-pointer snapped a 34-34 tie with 6:30 to play.
Burlington’s 19-of-47 shooting was adequate, considering Brandy Smith had 13 points, Ray scored 12 and Delaney Watson contributed 11, with Smith and Ray each hitting atypical three 3-pointers.
Tough 5-11 senior post Rylee Gundersen had a game-high 10 rebounds and six points, and junior guard Annaleis Reyes took only five shots but made three and contributed eight points.
The Tigers displayed their own considerable experience with a 21-point fourth quarter via 7-of-10 accuracy from the field along with five vital free throws after leading 33-32 heading into the final period.
THE BIG PLAYS
With Lynden down 44-37 and 3:25 to play, VanderHaak scored on a running hook and a free throw, but Watson negated those heroics with a basket off a rebound and a drive. That kept the Tigers up 48-40.
“We told Ruby she would get certain types of shots in our system and she hit those,” Adams said.
Fourth-year starter Elisa Kooiman, who had six of her nine points in the final period, scored on a drive with 2:15 left and Gonzalez muscled in a shot with 1:40 to play, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 48-44.
The quick, highly athletic Smith put the Tigers back up by six with a drive, but Kooiman’s basket on a rebound pulled the Lions back within four. At that point, Lynden suffered a crucial turnover and Ray followed with two free throws with 35 seconds to go.
Lynden wasn’t quite done – Natalie Amos scored her only basket on an assist from Lauren Zwiers with 24 seconds left – but Burlington responded with clinching free throws by Watson and Reyes. Gonzalez muscled in a hoop at the buzzer, but it was a six-point game at that juncture.
On balance, Adams noted his second-seeed Lions played “much better” against tournament top seed Burlington on Monday than it did in a 53-34 loss to the Tigers on Dec. 19.