For three quarters, the favored Meridian girls basketball team couldn’t shake Bellingham. But the fourth quarter belonged to the visiting Trojans, who pulled away for a 48-29 Northwest Conference victory Friday night, June 11.
A 13-0 run turned a tenuous four-point Meridian lead into a 17-point margin with two minutes left and sewed up a sixth victory in the last eight games for the Trojans, who are 7-3 in NWC play and 8-3 overall.
“We struggled at first, but it was a matter of staying with things, of having confidence in the second half,” said Meridian senior Maddie Bowler, who had a game-high 16 points, three 3-pointers, and was 5-for-6 from the line in the fourth period. “We’ve been here before. It was definitely a team effort.”
Sophomore Avery Neal started the run with a pair of layups, junior Finnley Claeys made another layup, Bowler made the last of her 3-pointers and a pair of free throws, and sophomore Kadance Blankers’s steal and fastbreak layup gave the Trojans their 44-27 lead.
Claeys finished with 11 points and Neal had 9, and the Trojans were 9-of-12 from the line, all in the second half.
“We actually made layups in the fourth quarter,” marveled Meridian coach Vic Wolffis. “We just couldn’t put the ball in when we were around the hoop (in the first three quarters).”
For the Red Raiders, who fell to 5-5 in the NWC and overall, it was a disappointing ending to a great effort, especially on defense where the Red Raiders held Meridian to only 29 points through three quarters.
“That’s probably the best defense we’ve played (all season),” said Bellingham coach Darcie Hill. “We knew we needed that against them. We had some open looks, but the shots just weren’t falling. And then they started hitting theirs.”
Bellingham was led by senior Alexa Mee, who had 12 hard-earned points. Her two buckets in the fourth period were the Red Raiders’ only points.
Senior Adi McKay managed 6 points against the defense of Meridian’s Neal, sophomore Kristina Jovag added 6 points, and junior Mazy Wright, who played with a sprained ankle, had 5 points as only four Raiders scored.
“I was very proud of our defense,” said Wolffis. “All night, we played pretty well. Avery Neal was on McKay the whole game and was phenomenal. And Mee earned her 12 (points).”
For Mee, the season has been a success both on and off the court, especially since Bellingham returned only three players with significant playing time from a squad that was 5-8 in league last year. Going into Friday’s game, Bellingham had won four of its previous five games.
“Actually, we’re really happy,” said Mee. “We’ve been bonding more. We’re the little underdog team, and we come out and win. It feels good.”
Hill said she would feel even better if her Raiders could add a couple more victories in their last three games. The Red Raiders host Burlington-Edison on Tuesday, are at Mount Vernon on Thursday, and host Anacortes on Saturday, June 19.
“We’ve got three games to go, and we’d love to have a winning season,” said Hill. “And if we bring the defense we brought tonight and get the ball in the basket …”
The Trojans also wrap up their season next week with three more games — all at home. They host Class 2B power La Conner on Monday, Squalicum on Thursday, and undefeated Lynden Christian on Saturday, June 19.
“This season has been so much fun,” said Bowler. “Everybody is relaxed, everybody is bonding … and winning has helped.”