Nothing demonstrates the intensity of the Northwest Conference better than when two teams near the bottom of the standings face off in what both coaches call a “playoff game” … and it lives up to its billing.
That’s what happened Monday night when the Meridian boys used their defense pressure to hold off visiting Nooksack Valley, 68-54, in a scrappy contest reminiscent of the old Whatcom County League rivalries.
“You throw the records out the door,” said Meridian coach Shane Stacy. “You know you’re going to do battle.”
And this was just another battle in the war that will determine which three of the four 1A teams advance to the Northwest District tournament in three weeks.
Meridian (7-8 overall), Nooksack Valley (5-9) and Mount Baker (5-10 after Monday’s upset of Ferndale) are all tied at 1-7 in conference play with five league games left for each.
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“This was an important game,” said Nooksack Valley coach Rich Skillman. “But it doesn’t mean we’re done. It’s just the little thing we’ve got to improve on. We’re young and it’s part of learning and growing.”
On Monday, the Trojans broke away in the second quarter, building up a double-digit lead thanks to a couple of 3-pointers from Jordan Veenstra, who finished with four 3-pointers in the game.
“It was a rivalry game, and the coach said we’ve got to win it,” said Veenstra, who led the team with 16 points. “And I like the pressure, being in that moment.”
After that, the Trojans’ pressing defense took over, helping Meridian hold off each of the Pioneers’ comeback attempts. Veenstra said the press was something new this season, and Stacy said the strategy fits his athletic squad.
“We wanted our offense to come from our defense,” said the coach. “These guys like to get out and run. It was a nice step for us, but it’s far from over.”
But it was a step, and Meridian junior Ryan Johnson said the Trojans understood the importance of it.
“Coach kept saying we need to win this if we want to keep going,” said Johnson, who had 15 points. “It feels good because we gave it our all. But now our focus is on Baker and Lynden Christian.”
Meridian also got 11 points off the bench from junior Joe Plagerman and 10 points from sophomore Ethan Brooks.
Senior Tyler Rawls had a game-high 17 for Nooksack Valley, with junior Cole Eldridge adding 12 and sophomore Cody Coppinger adding 10.
For the Northwest Conference standings, schedule, all the scores and a look at what’s happening around the league, check out www.nwcathletics.com.
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.