The seniors on the Meridian boys basketball team have waited almost their whole lives to make it to Yakima for the Class 1A state tournament. And now the wait is over.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Jackson Short after helping the Trojans defeat Vashon Island, 50-44, in the regional round of state on Thursday, Feb. 28, at Mount Vernon High School. “We’ve been best friends since kindergarten, and now we get to play together at state.”
By winning Thursday, 12th-seed Meridian (19-8) not only eliminated 13th-seed Vashon Island (17-6) but advanced to the Yakima SunDome for the first round of state.
The Trojans will play on Wednesday, March 4, at 12:15 p.m. in a loser-out game against the loser of Saturday’s regional game between No.4 River View and No.5 Bellevue Christian.
This victory was a long time coming — 10 years to be exact. The last time Meridian went to state was in 2010, about when the current seniors were playing hoops on the second-grade playground.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since we were little kids,” said senior Ryan Johnson, who had 9 points, including four straight free throws in the final 15 seconds to ice the game. “We’ve all grown up together, and there’s no other team I’d want to play with.”
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The game itself was a contrast in styles. Vashon Island had been allowing barely 30 points a game thanks to a pair of 6-foot-6 posts and a methodical halfcourt offense. Meridian countered with a smaller lineup that wanted to press and run the floor.
And it was the Trojans’ style that won out. While Meridian’s 50 points was its second lowest point total of the season, it also was the second most the Pirates had allowed all season.
After taking Vashon Island by storm in the first half and leading 28-15 at the break, Meridian saw the Pirates fight back to close within four to start the fourth quarter. And that’s when Short took over.
The 6-foot-3 senior guard turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play with 5:41 left to make it an eight-point Meridian lead, and then followed with another three-point play off an inside bucket with 3:37 left to make it 43-34 with 3:37 left.
Then when Vashon Island’s last-gasp comeback cut it to 43-39 win 42 seconds left, Short hit both free throws to push the lead back to six. Another senior, Corey Hemenway, hit one more free throw and Johnson hit four to finish off the Pirates.
“They were a little intimidating,” said Jackson after scoring a game-high 20 against the Pirates’ huge front line. “But when I see the ball up there, my first thought is, ‘Go get it.’”
Now the Trojans will be going after it in Yakima.
“As a coach and teacher, any time they get to experience something they’ll remember the rest of their lives … it warms your heart,” said Meridian assistant coach Rob Gray. “Years from now, people will look at them and say, ‘They’re the ones who went to state.’”
Meridian 50, Vashon Island 44
Vashon Island 7 8 17 12—44
Meridian 14 14 6 16—50
Vashon Island: Zach Vandusen, Jeremiah Bogaard 18, Lucas Schoenberg, Lucas Aprile 10, Aiden Coley, Isaac Patchen 3, Finbar Anderson 13, Levi Moore.
Meridian: Ryan Johnson 9, Andrew Kuljis, Corey Hemenway 3, Eli Hayrynen, Braiden Blackwelder 1, Trent Martin, Jackson Short 20, Trey Naidu 6, Jordan Veenstra 5, Joe Plagerman 4, Ethan Brooks 2.
CLASS 1A BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 28
King’s 62, Deer Park 44 (loser out)
Meridian 50, Vashon Island 44 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 29
#4 River View vs. #5 Bellevue Christian, noon, at Richland
#1 Seattle Academy vs. #8 Omak, 2 p.m., at Issaquah
#9 La Salle vs. #16 Seton Catholic, 2 p.m., at Eisenhower HS in Yakima (loser out)
#2 Cashmere vs. #7 King’s Way Christian, 4 p.m., at Wenatchee
#3 Zillah vs. #6 Lynden Christian, 6 p.m., at Davis HS in Yakima
#10 LaCenter vs. #15 Bear Creek, 6 p.m., at Battle Ground (loser out)
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.