Lynden boys’ basketball coach Brian Roper stood with his hands in his pockets outside his team’s locker room, looked at his assistants and said, “Anybody got any ideas what we say? We’ve never had to do this before.”
No, under Roper, the Lions have never had their season come to a screeching halt like this, at least not in the state tournament. There’s always been a tomorrow. There’s always been a trophy to play for — even if it wasn’t the big gold ball they ultimately wanted.
In his first 10 years, Roper guided Lynden to the state tournament seven times, and each time they managed to win their first-round game.
But that string came to an end on Saturday, Feb. 28, in the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament. For the second time in nine days, the Lions were plagued by poor shooting from the field against a top-level opponent, and not even a feverish fourth-quarter rally was enough, as top-ranked Mark Morris ended their season with a 65-62 defeat.
“Right now it’s disappointing, because we know we’re a team that’s good enough to go make some hay in Yakima, and that’s what hurts a little bit,” Roper said. “I’m proud of our guys. They played the right way. Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair.”
It definitely doesn’t seem fair when, as the No. 2 seed out of the Northwest District, Lynden drew another No. 2 seed, which just happened to be the Monarchs (22-2). Like Lynden, Mark Morris lost in its district title game, setting up the top-three matchup that many wouldn’t have been surprised to see seven days later when the stakes were much higher.
But alas, it turned out to come in a single-elimination first-round meeting, meaning one team wouldn’t even get to go to Yakima, and that team turned out being the Lions (18-6).
The same problem that landed Lynden in this game with a loss to Anacortes in the district championship game, when the Lions started the game for 1 for 18 from the field and finished 0 for 7 in overtime, once again reared its ugly head on Saturday.
Lynden couldn’t buy a shot from inside the paint in the first half on Saturday, when the Lions went 5 for 25 from the field in the in the first 16 minutes and all five makes came from beyond the 3-point arc.
Not coincidentally, Mark Morris employed the same 2-3 zone that Anacortes used to frustrate Lynden. And Mark Morris added some tremendous length to the back line of that 2-3 with 6-foot-9 Geordi Morrow flanked by 6-5 Grant Gibb and 6-4 Evan Troy.
“We really missed some chippies early,” Roper said. “We missed some point-blank shots. Against a team like that that executes so well, it just seems like we were playing catch up the whole game. That’s hard to do.”
Possibly nobody felt that pressure more than Sterling Somers, as Lynden fell behind 24-18 at the half and 43-29 entering the fourth and the Lions struggled to find any rhythm offensively. Somers, who came in averaging at team-high 16.4 points per game, missed his first 11 shots from the field and badly on his first three free throw attempts.
But with 6:30 left in the game, Somers connected on his first field goal on a put-back, and that seemed to light a fire, as he scored 18 of his game-high 19 points to fuel Lynden’s last-ditch comeback attempt.
“He’s a confident kid,” Roper said of Somers. “He struggled early, but he stayed aggressive. He’s a big part of who we are, obviously.”
Somers scored on three straight possessions, capping the run off with a 3, as the Lions trimmed the Monarchs’ advantage to 54-48 with 1:48 to play.
Scooter Hastings, who was playing after battling tonsillitis the past week, then hit a pair of free throws after a nice steal to cut the deficit to four with 1:30 to play.
But that was as close as the Lions could get until Somers hit a final 3 at the buzzer, as Mark Morris connected on nine of 10 free throws in the final 90 seconds to secure the win.
“It seems like we made that run when we were just a deflection or two away,” Roper said. “We just couldn’t get over that hump. I’m proud of my guys. They gave them everything we had and reeled them in.”
Hastings, who is headed for Cal Poly Pomona next year, joined Somers in double figures with 15 points, as did Jordan Wittenberg, who nailed four 3s. Senior Jonathan Whetnall scored nine and had four assists in his final game.
Lynden will return nine players it listed on its state roster next year, including Somers.
“We thank our seniors,” Roper said. “We appreciate what those guys did. Scooter had tonsillitis and missed a day of school this week, but he battled hard the entire game.”
Mark Morris 65, Lynden 62
Mark Morris: Levi Poole 0, Nick Rinck 0, Spencer Sweet 19, Evan Troy 11, Grant Gibb 8, Will Burghardt 16, Geordi Morrow 11. Totals: 20-40 20-24 65.
Lynden: Noah King 0, Jonathan Whetnall 9, Clark Hazlett 0, Sterling Somers 19, Andrew Kivlighn 7, Scooter Hastings 15, Jordan Wittenberg 12, Davis Bode 0. Totals: 20-59 10-14 62.
3-point field goals — Mark Morris: 5-10 (Burghardt 2); Lynden: 12-34 (Somers 4, Wittenberg 4). Rebounds — Mark Morris: 39 (Sweet 8, Troy 8); Lynden: 25 (Somers 7). Assists — Mark Morris: 11 (Troy 4, Burghardt 4); Lynden: 12 (Whetnall 4, Somers 4). Fouls — Mark Morris: 13; Lynden: 21 (Whetnall, Wittenberg fouled out). Turnovers — Mark Morris: 14; Lynden: 5.