Only two points separated the Meridian and Blaine boys basketball teams on the scoreboard, but both coaches recognized there was still a big difference between the two squads after the Trojans’ 60-58 victory on Thursday, Jan. 9.
With the game on the line in the final minute and a half, the senior-dominated Trojans did all the little things a veteran squad does to win, while the young Borderites couldn’t come up with the big play.
“To have that lead, give it up, and persevere,” marveled coach Shane Stacy, whose Trojans built a 13-point first quarter lead only to fall behind by five going into the fourth period. “They keep grinding and keep grinding… that’s senior leadership.”
Seniors Jackson Short and Jordan Veenstra were leaders all game long, scoring 17 and 15 points respectively. But they and senior Ryan Johnson were truly clutch at the end.
Short hit two free throws to give Meridian a three-point lead with 3:30 to play, Veenstra was 4-for-4 from the line in the final 20 seconds, and Johnson hit two free throws with two minutes to play and had a block underneath the basket to preserve a two-point lead in the final minute.
In all, Meridian hit 13 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter to raise its record to 8-2 overall and 3-2 in Northwest Conference play.
For Blaine, which fell to 6-5 overall and 1-4 in the NWC, the ending spoiled what was a great comeback.
“They looked like they’d have their way in the first quarter,” said Blaine coach Brett Farrar of the Trojans. “But we’re still learning how to win close games. I’m proud as heck of our team.”
With leading scorer Zane Rector in foul trouble much of the game — he would foul out with only 9 points with 4:45 left — Blaine got a big game from sophomore Cole Thomas, who had 11 points off the bench.
Junior Kyle Turnberg added 8 points and Mason Vega, Blaine’s only senior besides Rector, had 7 points. Sophomore Scott Baldwin hit a 3-pointer and two free throws in the final two minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
For Stacy, this group of seven seniors has provided not only highlights on the court but has been fun off the court as well.
And no one epitomizes that fun more than the one senior who didn’t even get to play Wednesday night — and won’t play all season: Cameron Webster.
A starter last year, Webster broke his foot in Meridian’s first-round football playoff game and is already scheduled for a second surgery in April that will keep him from returning to state in the javelin, too.
“The first week was really rough,” Webster said of finding out he wouldn’t be able play his senior year. “But I came to terms with it. I have to do what I can for the team. I stay positive and try to be hopeful.”
No one was more positive Wednesday night in the rowdy Meridian gym. When he wasn’t wheeling around on his little scooter high-fiving teammates, he was jumping up to celebrate a 3-pointer, or being an extra cheerleader trying to pump up the fans.
“We’ve been playing together since we were young,” said Webster, who attends every practice and is listed in the scorebook for every game. “They’re a bunch of goons … and we are a brotherhood.”