Lady Lyncs pull out 50-48 thriller over Cashmere for program’s 12th state championship
YAKIMA — All season, the Lynden Christian girls basketball players proved themselves to be among the top teams in the state, regardless of classification for school size.
Entering the 2018 Class 1A state tournament in the Yakima SunDome last week, the lady Lyncs owned a record of 24-0, winning each game by at least 10 points. As regular-season Northwest Conference champions, LC had defeated some of the top teams in Class 3A (including state champion Gig Harbor), 2A (including state runner-up Archbishop Murphy) and their own 1A.
To open play in Yakima, the No. 1 seed Lyncs looked as strong as ever, earning blowout victories over No. 7 Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) 53-30 in Thursday’s quarterfinal round before cruising past previously undefeated No. 5 Medical Lake 64-40 in Friday’s semifinals.
The two wins set LC up with a showdown against No. 2 Cashmere in Saturday’s championship game. If there was any 1A team that could rival the Lyncs’ success in 2017-18, the one-loss Bulldogs were it.
Led by sophomore standout Hailey VanLith, who averaged about 32 points per game entering the tournament, Cashmere had suffered a title-game defeat to Mount Baker in the 2017 state tourney, and was as hungry as any team could be to capture the crown this time around.
Despite giving the Lyncs all they could handle, the Bulldogs couldn’t stop the LC girls from pulling out a thrilling 50-48 victory to give the program its 12th state championship.
Without a doubt, it was the toughest test for the Lyncs in the season’s final game. LC clung to a 25-23 halftime lead behind senior Sam VanLoo’s nine points, but VanLith did all she could with 21 first-half points and multiple steals and rebounds.
“She’s a great player,” LC senior Avery Dykstra said of VanLith, who drew coaches from Baylor University and other colleges to the SunDome to witness her talents. “We knew going into the game that she was going to get her points. Our goal was just to make it difficult for her.”
Cashmere surged ahead in the third quarter after back-to-back buckets from Grace Hammond put the Bulldogs up 27-25 early in the period. Senior Riley VanHulzen tied the game on the other end before VanLith scored again, followed by a VanLoo two-point layup to tie the game 29-29.
After a made Bulldogs’ free throw, senior Cami Knishka drained a three to give Cashmere a 33-29 lead with about three minutes left in the third. LC junior Grace Sterk and VanLith traded buckets to end the period with the Bulldogs leading 35-31.
To start the fourth, Hammond connected on layup and ran down the court pumping her fist as the Bulldogs took their largest lead of the night at 37-31.
After two points for Lyncs sophomore Riley Dykstra and then two VanLith free throws, Lynden Christian was faced with a 39-33 deficit and appeared to be in serious danger of losing the game.
That’s when the tide started to turn in the Lyncs’ favor, and rather quickly. Junior Isabela Hernandez completed a three-point play after she drove for two points and was fouled. Then VanLoo scored before VanHulzen snagged an offensive board and converted a putback as LC reeled off seven straight points for a 40-39 lead with about five minutes left in regulation.
Following a Cashmere timeout, VanLith scored six straight points around a VanLoo layup for a 45-42 Bulldogs’ lead. Hernandez then made two free throws after rebounding her own miss and getting fouled. Then VanLith made a two-point shot. Riley Dykstra missed on the other end, but came up with an offensive rebound and putback as the Lyncs trailed 47-46.
A steal and layup by Hernandez gave LC the lead at 48-47. Then VanLoo used her interior strength to put the Lyncs up 50-48 with five seconds left.
“We saw some girls grow up before our eyes this week,” Lynden Christian head coach Brady Bomber said of his team’s clutch plays in the fourth quarter. “It was fun to see them compete and to work together. To step up when big moments came — they didn’t shy away from the moment at all.”
Following a Cashmere timeout, everyone in the SunDome knew who the Bulldogs were going to. VanLith got the ball on the inbound, drove inside and put up a shot that bounced off the rim. Hernandez grabbed the rebound and time expired as the Lyncs erupted in celebration of the dramatic win for the title.
“What a testament to a group of girls who stuck it out and played together against an incredible team and a ton of adversity in an incredible environment,” said Bomber. “Everything we wanted to do didn’t work, but we just found a way to grit it out.”
VanLoo, a first-team All-NWC selection, led the Lyncs with 15 points and 12 rebounds while Hernandez added 10 points. Riley Dykstra and VanHulzen each scored 8 points, and Avery Dykstra, a Western Washington University commit, was held to just two points while dealing with VanLith for most of the game.
Avery wasn’t at all disappointed by her lack of points.
“It’s just the best feeling,” the senior said of the state title. “We worked so well together as a team, and I think we showed that throughout the season.”
While VanLith went off for 36 points and seven rebounds in the game — accounting for 75 percent of her team’s points — the Lyncs were able to keep all but two other Bulldogs (Hammond and Knishka) from scoring a single point.
“Riley and Avery Dykstra did an incredible job of making (VanLith) work, but she changed the way we played offense,” Bomber said. “At the same time, we wanted to take everyone else away (on Cashmere’s offense). There were times when it felt like a dumb decision, but we wanted to stay the course. We knew it didn’t matter how many (VanLith) scores. It only matters how many they score (as a team).”
Lynden Christian finishes the season with a record of 29-0 and captures the second state title in four seasons under coach Bomber, who took over for the legendary coach Curt DeHaan in 2014-15. In four years, Bomber and his LC seniors — Avery Dykstra, VanHulzen and VanLoo — won exactly 100 games, including four state trophies and two state titles.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Bomber said. “This was the crew that came in with us when we took over for coach DeHaan. They trusted in us as we learned and grew as a group — for a group of kids to trust you like that, it’s really special.
“The legacy (the seniors) leave is that they competed with class. The way they carry themselves on the court — they’re class acts, selfless, great teammates. It’s so much bigger than basketball.”
A strong crop of players — including Hernandez (a first-team All-Tournament and a first-team All-Northwest Conference selection) and Riley Dykstra (a second-team All-Tourney pick) — do return for the Lyncs next season.
For Avery Dykstra, who was also a first-team All-NWC pick, she couldn’t have asked for a better finish to her high school basketball career.
“It’s the best way to go out,” she said. “(100 wins) is the perfect number.”
Lyncs cruise in state quarters 53-30 over Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls)
The lady Lyncs didn’t receive much of a challenge in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, as LC rolled on with a win over the Eagles.
Hernandez scored 15 points, VanLoo scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Avery Dykstra scored 10 points for Lynden Christian.
Lyncs roll to state finals with 64-40 semifinal win over Medical Lake
In a battle of undefeated teams, Lynden Christian had little trouble with the Cardinals in Friday’s semifinal round.
Riley Dykstra had 19 points on five threes with seven rebounds and Hernandez scored 11 points for the Lyncs.