And the Road Warriors keep on truckin’.
Forced to play their ninth straight playoff game away from Whatcom County, the Meridian girls basketball team was again up to the challenge as the 15th-seeded Trojans held off 10th-seed Okanogan, 37-35, in the regional round of the Class 1A state tournament on Saturday, Feb. 29, at Wenatchee.
With the win, the Trojans (16-13) will hit the road again … but they won’t mind since they’ll be heading to the Yakima SunDome for the first round of the state tournament.
Meridian will play a loser-out contest on Wednesday, March 4, at 5:30 p.m. against seventh-seed Annie Wright, a 76-49 loser to Lynden Christian in another regional game last Friday.
On Saturday, two strong defensive teams staged a battle for every basket. Meridian had a five-point lead going into the fourth quarter of the tight contest, and the Trojans would need every point after being held to just two buckets in the final period.
“The D (defense) was really strong by both teams,” said Meridian coach Mark Gilmore, a long-time veteran of the Whatcom County defensive wars.
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With sophomore guard Kayla Aalpoel defending the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Isabel Buchert, and sophomore post Skyleigh James draped on the Bulldogs’ top inside threat, Lexi Lafferty, Meridian held Okanogan to just nine points in the fourth period to secure the win.
Aalpoel didn’t score, but almost held Buchert scoreless, giving up just two points. And James nearly outscored Lafferty, putting in 7 points to Lafferty’s 8.
“Skyleigh James played well on both ends in a good matchup with their senior post,” said Gilmore praising both his defensive stars.
Other Trojans picked up the scoring slack, notably junior Madeline Bowler with 9 points, freshmen Maris Baklund and Avery Neal with 6 each, and senior Amanda Schleimer with 5.
With the loss, Okahnogan (16-7) was eliminated from the tournament.
Meridian 37, Okanogan 35
Meridian 6 11 14 6—37
Okanogan 8 8 10 9—35
Meridian: Madeline Bowler 9, Kayla Aalpoel, Maris Baklund 6, Brynn Neal, Finnley Claeys 2, Amanda Schleimer 5, Kandance Blankers, Avery Neal 6, Ellie DeWaard 2, Skyleigh James 7.
Okanogan: Lyndsey Jones, Ayens Jones, Mylie Leitz-Rawsurt 5, Sydney Sparks, Lexi Lafferty 8, Daniele Sparks 18, Isabel Buchert 2, Taylor Meyer 2, Sara Silverthorn, Jenna Radke.
CLASS 1A STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 21
Lynden Christian 76, Annie Wright 49
La Salle 55, Freeman 32
Saturday, Feb. 22
Warden 61, King’s 45
Montesano 65, Seattle Academy 40 (loser out)
Elma 39, Deer Park 38 (loser out)
Meridian 37, Okanogan 35 (loser out)
Zillah 59, Cascade Christian 37 (loser out)
Cashmere 61, Nooksack Valley 26
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.