Taken individually, each of Lynden’s strengths was daunting enough on its own as West Valley tried gamely to navigate the obstacle course laid out in Thursday’s boys Class 2A state quarterfinals.
Rebounds. The Lions board like the two-time state champion football team they are.
Turnovers. No help here for the Rams as Lynden made just two in the first half and seven for the game.
Bench: A nimble and confident 220-pound kid came in and made 6 of 10 shots.
Defense: Savvy and physical, the Lions go man-to-man and make a team earn everything.
A game could be won with any one of those attributes, but defending champion Lynden put on the full show Thursday, breaking out early with a 13-0 run in the first quarter en route to a 60-42 victory that quieted a huge West Valley crowd eager for an upset in the SunDome.
After yielding the early run, the Rams fought to stay in the game and were still within 10 points with six minutes to play. But the rebounding disparity — 39-25 — precluded any sustained rally.
“We played good enough defense to get ourselves back into it, but we couldn’t finish the defensive stops with a rebound,” said West Valley coach Jon Kinloch. “The number of baskets scored as a result of not getting that rebound was the biggest difference in the game.”
Indeed, Lynden had a pivotal edge of 24-7 in second-chance points. During the Lions’ 17-5 start when they scored on eight consecutive possessions, 11 of those points followed offensive rebounds.
“In first few minutes, I think we were a step quicker and a little more aggressive,” noted Lynden coach Brian Roper, “and that was our experience showing.”
Lynden returned four starters from last year’s title team and John Shine was not one of them, Yet the 6-foot-2 senior guard led all scorers with 18 points and hauled down nine rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. Dak Shagren scored 13 points to complement his huge defensive effort, and the aforementioned Jaremy Martin came off the bench to score three straight baskets late in the first quarter and finish with 12 points.
“That shows their balance and the way they play as a team,” Kinloch said. “They don’t care who scores, they just take advantage of what they see. And they play exceptionally hard. When a guard gets seven offensive rebounds, it’s going to be tough.”
West Valley’s Austin Strock led his team with 13 points and worked intensely hard for every bit of it, The three-year starter scored seven points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer as he looked for opportunities further from the paint, and the Rams managed to outscore Lynden 11-10 in that frame.
But the Lions were too disciplined and too well-schooled to allow a comeback and they outscored West Valley 19-12 in the final period.
“We knew they were big and physical and we tried to prepare as much as we could,” Strock said. “But it’s something we didn’t match up well with. They have quite a physical presence on defense. They were bodying me up down low in the first half so I tried to do more off the dribble to adjust. It was hard to get position on them.”
Shagren, Lynden’s best defender, was assigned to WV’s Jalen Peake and the CWAC’s player of the year was held to six points on a pair of 3-pointers. Peake took just seven shots, and the Rams were held to a season-low 42 points.
“Certainly we would’ve liked to get Jalen more shots because when he gets more shots he produces,” Kinloch explained. “But it was tough against their physical defense. We needed to screen better and pass the ball better.”
Taking a step closer to a repeat, Lynden (24-1) will play Anacortes (21-5) in today’s second semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The Lions have won 18 straight since losing to 4A Tahoma in December.
West Valley (21-3) faces a loser-out game today at 10:30 a.m. against Clover Park (20-7), which fell to Anacortes 59-51. The Rams can still place as high as fourth.
“It was fun to take on Lynden and be here with the top eight teams,” Strock said. “We knew Lynden would be a battle and at least we gave them a fight. We’ll be OK tomorrow. We’ll get our heads right and play as hard as we can.”