1A Girls State: Meridian Can’t Slow Walker, Annie Wright

The Meridian girls basketball team wanted to play shut-down defense and hit its shots. Unfortunately, Annie Wright wouldn’t let them do either.

The Trojans couldn’t continue their magical playoff run after running into Julianna Walker and falling to the Gators, 72-46, in the first round of the Class 1A state tournament on Wednesday, March 4, in the Yakima SunDome.

“They were a little more than we could handle,” said Meridian coach Mark Gilmore, whose Trojans finished the year 16-13. “But it’s a great experience (playing at state). Hopefully, we’ll grow from that.”

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The young Trojans did a lot of growing up this season. Despite ending the regular season with a losing record, they played 10 playoff games — all on the road — won seven of them and at No.15, were the lowest seeded team to make it Yakima.

Still, it was a hard way to end the season. Annie Wright only led 7-4 with 3:40 left in the first quarter before Walker led a 12-0 run that left Meridian looking at a 21-6 first-quarter deficit.

And it only got worse from there. Unable to contain Walker, a 5-foot-5 shooting machine who would finish with seven 3-pointers and 35 points, the Trojans gave up the most points they have all season as the Gators hit 11 of 24 3-pointers for the game.

“Give Annie Wright all the credit,” said Gilmore. “They put their foot down and wouldn’t allow us to get in it.”

Meridian would score 22 points in the final quarter to give the reserves a lot of state experience and close the gap, but with Walker staying in the game until the final minute, the outcome was not in doubt.

Sophomore center Skyleigh James led Meridian with 10 points, going 4-for-4 from the field, and junior Madeline Bowler had 9 points and 3 assists. Sophomore post Ellie DeWaard also had a game-high 6 rebounds.

With eight sophomores and freshmen on the team, it’s easy to look forward to a bright future for the Trojans — even if you’re not going to be part of it.

Amanda Schleimer, the only senior on the squad, wiped away the tears after the loss, but still managed a smile.

“It’s definitely sad,” she said. “It’s a great group of girls. Nobody thought we could make it (to state). It was an honor. And next year, they’ll be even stronger.”

Tournament notes: James was awarded the game’s sportsmanship medal for Meridian.

Annie Wright 72, Meridian 46
Meridian                          6    12      6    22—46
Annie Wright                 21    15    19    17—72

Meridian: Madeline Bowler 9, Kayla Aalpoel 2, Maris Baklund 6, Brynn Neal 5, Finnley Claeys 3, Amanda Schleimer 2, Kandance Blankers 2, Avery Neal, Ellie DeWaard 4, Skyleigh James 10, Emilee Swanson 3.

Annie Wright: Julianna Walker 35, Savannah Hill, Tara Hutchinson, Bella Spencer 3, Paisley Cristobal 2, Claire Sagiao 14, Kayla Mathurin, Rae Wartelle, Tala Mitchell 16, Monee Dubose 2.

Class 1A Girls State Tournament

First round
King’s 64, Montesano 43 (loser out)
Annie Wright 72, Meridian 46 (loser out)
Freeman 49, Elma 25 (loser out)
Zillah 57, Nooksack Valley 54 (loser out)

#5 La Salle vs. # 6 King’s, 3:45 p.m.
#1 Cashmere vs.  #7 Annie Wright, 5:30 p.m.
#3 Warden vs. #4 Freeman, 7:15 p.m.
#2 Lynden Christian vs. #9 Zillah, 9 p.m.

Consolation game, 12:15 p.m. (loser out)
Consolation games, 2 p.m. (loser out)
Semifinal, 7:15 p.m.
Semifinal, 9 p.m.

Consolation game, 9:30 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Consolation game, 1 p.m. (winner third, loser fifth)
Championship game, 9 p.m. (winner first, loser second)

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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