MOUNT VERNON — Lynden overcame a 13-point halftime deficit behind a suffocating second-half defensive effort and the Lions beat Lakewood, 62-53, to advance to the 2A District 1 championship on Friday, Feb. 9 at Mount Vernon High School.
After being outscored 29-11 in the second quarter, and trailing 39-26 at halftime, Lynden shut down Lakewood’s red-hot perimeter shooting and flipped the game on its head. The Lions allowed just 14 second-half points to the Cougars while scoring 36 themselves.
Lakewood had nine 3-pointers in the first half and just two in the second.
“It wasn’t any magical game plan,” Lynden head coach Brian Roper said. “We wanted to get the ball inside a little more [on offense], and we did some things to accomplish that. But it was just the will of our guys to go out and get stops and get out in transition.”
Top-seeded Lynden (19-4) was led by 23 points from junior Jack Stapleton, who doubled as the Lions’ defensive anchor on Cougars sophomore Caleb Greenland — one of the Northwest Conference’s premier players. Greenland finished with eight points.
No. 4 Lakewood (13-9) clamped Lynden’s top two scoring options — senior Anthony Canales and junior Brant Heppner — which opened things up for Stapleton to have a big night. Canales and Heppner each had 10 points.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had after a game,” Stapleton said. “They like to take away the top scorers … so I knew I was going to have to knock down some shots, and that mid-range shot has been my go-to pretty much all year.”
Stapleton added that, although he had a big night on offense, he was most proud of his defensive effort.
“I felt my defensive performance at the end was probably better than my offense,” he said.
The opening five minutes of the first quarter featured six lead changes before Lynden built up a 15-10 advantage by the end of the period.
Lakewood, as if shot out of a cannon, went on an 18-4 run over the first four minutes of the second quarter, building up a 28-19 lead with 3:52 remaining in the first half.
The Cougars took their biggest lead of the first half at the second quarter buzzer, 39-26, when Zachary Stoddard converted a layup in traffic and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Stoddard sent Lakewood into the locker room with a commanding, and somewhat shocking, advantage.
Lynden’s third quarter mirrored Lakewood’s second. The Lions, over a five-minute span, scored the third period’s first 14 points — putting a cork on Lakewood’s once-potent offense.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Lynden senior Charlie Ayres and Stapleton cemented the run before the Cougars scored their first points of the quarter with under three minutes remaining.
“We’ve done this a long time, and I can’t remember a third quarter like that,” Roper said. “We hang our hat on defense and rebounding and sharing the ball, and there are guys who are just dialed in defensively. I’m so thankful for our halftime because we were reeling at the end [of the second quarter].”
Lynden outscored Lakewood 20-6 in the third, entering the fourth quarter with a 46-45 lead.
Though Lakewood tied the game, 52-52, with less than three minutes to play, it only managed one more point. Ayres, who finished with eight points, drilled another 3-pointer to make it 57-53 with 41.6 seconds left.
Canales got a steal on Lakewood’s next possession, and the Cougars never scored again.
Senior Brady Elsner, who had five points for Lynden, also broke the Lions’ all-time career assists record in the first quarter of the game.
Lakewood was led by senior Ben Rucker’s 15 points, while fellow senior Zachary Stoddard had 12.
Lynden will now play No. 2 Cedarcrest (17-4) in the district title game at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14. The winner will head to the state tournament, while the loser will have to face a loser-out consolation final.
Lakewood will play No. 6 Sehome (11-11) in the consolation quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12. That will be a loser-out contest as well.
Connor J. Benintendi is CDN’s sports editor; reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-922-3090 ext. 104.