EVERETT — It’s not often that state-title contenders from different leagues and classifications square off this late in the regular season.
That rarity took place Thursday night in a non-league showdown of unbeatens.
The Archbishop Murphy girls basketball team suffered its first loss of the season, falling 44-31 to visiting Lynden Christian in a defensive slugfest between two teams with state championship aspirations.
“Not happy with the loss, obviously, but in the end we’re going to learn more from a loss than a win,” Wildcats coach Cassie Snyder said.
Both teams entered Thursday night undefeated and having won every game this season by double digits.
Archbishop Murphy (18-1), currently No. 2 in the Class 2A state RPI rankings, had walloped opponents by an average of 35.4 points per game. Lynden Christian (20-0), No. 2 in 1A, had outscored teams by 25.6 points per contest.
“Both teams haven’t really had a huge challenge, so it was a good experience,” Snyder said. “We came out with positives (from) this game, because it was a challenge for us.”
The contest was a defensive struggle throughout, with both teams featuring a combination of length and athleticism that made finding open shots a challenge. Both sides were held to season-low point totals.
“Both teams made it so hard for the other one to score,” Lynden Christian coach Brady Bomber said. “Both teams were getting looks, but they were a little off, just because they were contested really well.”
As strong as Archbishop Murphy’s defense was, Lynden Christian’s was even better. The Lyncs frustrated Archbishop Murphy with a mix of zone and man-to-man looks, holding the Wildcats nearly 33 points below their season average.
“They’re great fundamentally,” Snyder said of the Lyncs’ stifling defense. “They’re in the right place at the right time, they move when the ball is in the air and they’re long. So even if they’re half a step behind, their length will get them where they need to be. That was a struggle.”
Archbishop Murphy led 6-4 at the end of the first quarter after holding Lynden Christian scoreless for the final four minutes of the opening period.
But the Lyncs began finding their rhythm midway through the second quarter, scoring baskets on three straight possessions to build an 18-15 halftime lead.
The Wildcats trailed by just a point midway through the third, but Lynden Christian closed the period on an 11-2 run, with senior post Sam Van Loo hitting a turnaround basket in the closing seconds to extend the Lyncs’ lead to 33-23.
Archbishop Murphy never came closer than eight points after that, suffering a non-league loss to Lynden Christian for the fourth consecutive season.
Emily Rodabaugh led the Wildcats with 11 points, while Avery Dykstra scored a team-high 11 for the Lyncs.
“We haven’t really been challenged a ton this year, and so because of that, when we got down, we kept going down,” Snyder said. “We need to stop the bleeding earlier.
“And execute better on offense,” she added. “We were a little jittery. We went through way too fast and didn’t read the defense or use screens. And we just didn’t finish.”
For the previous three seasons, Archbishop Murphy and Lynden Christian squared off in early December. Snyder said she and Bomber scheduled this year’s non-league matchup toward the end of the regular season to prepare their teams for the playoffs.
“We treated it as a playoff game,” Snyder said.
Lynden Christian, a longtime girls basketball powerhouse, has earned 12 consecutive top-four state finishes, including three 1A state titles in the past decade.
The Lyncs have beaten some of the state’s best this season, regardless of classification. Lynden Christian owns nine wins over teams currently in the top 12 of their classification’s respective RPI rankings, with four of those victories coming against 3A or 4A schools.
“They’re just a great team,” Snyder said. “Fundamentally, just all around, they’re great.”
Cascade Conference champion Archbishop Murphy concludes its regular-season slate Friday against Sultan. After that, the Wildcats hope to embark on another deep postseason run.
Archbishop Murphy reached the 2A state quarterfinals last year before ending its season with back-to-back losses.
“This team’s hungry,” Snyder said. “They were at state last year (and) didn’t perform the way that they wanted to. They want to get back. They realize there are steps along the way, but they have lofty goals.”