The Meridian and Sehome girls basketball teams take pride in their defenses, and they both accomplished what they wanted to do in their matchup: stop the other team’s top scorer.
But the visiting Trojans used a dominating third quarter to shut out the rest of the Mariners and come away with a 51-39 victory in their Northwest Conference battle on Monday night, Jan. 24.
The win, Meridian’s sixth in its last seven league games, raised the Trojans’ record to 12-4 overall and 9-2 in the NWC. The Mariners, who had come into Monday’s game having won four of their last five games, fell to 5-8 overall and 5-6 in league.
The difference on this night was a four-and-a half-minute span to start the third period when the Trojans’ used a 14-0 streak to go up, 32-21. The Mariners managed to close the gap to seven in the final period but could get no closer.
“They got on a roll and we went cold,” said Sehome interim coach Kim Kirk, who is still settling in after taking over for Anye Turner who resigned two weeks ago. “Defensively, the kids did a good job with a defense that we worked on for only 20 minutes in our last practice.”
Sehome’s defense was meant to stop Meridian’s leading scorer and best inside player, senior Skyleigh James. The strategy worked as James only managed six points against the Mariners’ smothering attention.
But Meridian is far from a one-woman team and Kirk knew it was a gamble.
“They have three strong players,” she said. “So you have to pick your poison.”
On Monday the poison was provided by Ellie DeWaard. The 6-foot wing hit inside and outside, finishing with a game-high 16 points and two 3-pointers. She was especially efficient in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points, including all three of Meridian’s field goals, to thwart Sehome’s comeback attempt.
“The first half I was frustrated,” DeWaard said of having only two points before intermission. “But I had Avery Neal yelling at me to keep shooting.”
Give Neal credit. Not only did the junior guard fire up her teammate, but she had the night’s toughest assignment, defending Maddie Schumacher.
Schumacher, who has played at an all-league level all season, managed to score 11 points, but could only connect on one field goal thanks to the constant pressure of Neal and Meridian’s other guards — Kadance Blankers, Emilee Swanson, and Brooklyn Fuller.
“We knew we had to lock her down to have a chance,” said Meridian coach Bree Park of Schumacher. “You have to give props to Avery. She’s a coach’s dream. She held her to one field goal and scored 13 points.”
Schumacher did hit all eight of her free throws, including four in the crucial third quarter that were Sehome’s only points in the period. Sophomore Macie Aven added 9 points for the Mariners, and sophomore Natalie Brewer and junior Mac Cooper had 7 points each.
Besides DeWaard’s 16 points and Neal’s 13, which included a pair of 3-pointers, sophomore Allie Richter had a pair of 3s to join James with 6 points each.
“Doubling up on Sky opens up the game for everyone else,” said Park.
But on Monday, the name of the game was defense, which, according to DeWaard, it is every day for the Trojans.
“Eighty percent of our practice is defense,” she said. “We feel good about where we are. We have to bring that intensity to every game.”
The Trojans are off until Saturday’s rescheduled contest with Anacortes and then finish off the regular season hosting Lakewood on Feb. 2 and visiting Lynden Christian on Feb. 4 for an important league finale.
Sehome faces city rival Squalicum on the road on Thursday and completes the regular season with home contests against Oak Harbor on Jan. 31 and Nooksack Valley on Feb. 5.
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.