LAUREL - Leave it to a senior reserve who participated in the state chess tournament to make the right moves when Meridian's boys' basketball team needed them.
Meridian coach Shane Stacy had no trouble explaining why Kelby Todd was ready to make a significant contribution as the starting point guard in the Trojans' 59-42 victory over South Whidbey in the opening round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
"That's easy to explain," said Stacy, who watched all seven players in the regular rotation make big plays. "Kelby is extremely confident. He made only two turnovers against (Northwest Conference champion) Lynden in the previous game, and he played at least as well tonight."
Todd started for the second consecutive game in place of injured team scoring leader Alijah Garcia, who is out indefinitely with a pulled calf muscle.
"We're definitely going to need Kelby to be ready for (all) 32 minutes," said Stacy, who is not optimistic about Garcia's early return because of the severity of the injury.
"I'm always ready," Todd said with a grin. "Alijah and Edward (high-scoring brother Edward Garcia) have definitely made me better, guarding them all season in practice."
If the Trojans (9-12) get a similarly balanced team effort on Thursday, Feb. 7, against top-seeded and defending state Class 1A champion Lynden Christian (15-5) at LC, Meridian can't be counted out.
"I'm excited," said Todd. "We gave them a real good game in league (LC held on to win a 64-61 thriller on Jan. 24)."
The taller and more mobile Trojans limited South Whidbey (4-18) to only 36 field goal attempts, although the Falcons made 18 and showed they may well be better than their record.
"This was definitely one of our better defensive games," said Stacy, who saw his team make runs of 15-0 in the first half and 13-0 over the second and third quarters. "We were all on the same page for the most part and we did a better job of communicating, without a doubt."
Meridian, meanwhile, worked hard to earn 49 shots and connected on 25 with six 3-pointers, including three by Blake Briones. Edward Garcia shot 5 for 9 and scored a game-high 13 points, while Chad Richter made 5 of 9 for 10 points and Logan Carlson was 4 for 8 for 8 points.
Briones finished with 11 and Todd, who went 2 for 2 with a 3-pointer, had five points along with Patrick Carlson and Spencer Blackburn.
Blackburn took a pass from Edward Garcia and muscled home a shot for a 52-34 lead with 4:50 remaining - Meridian's largest lead to that point. But the Falcons hung in with a couple of quick hoops.
It was at that point that the poised 5-foot-9 Todd made a game-clinching steal in traffic underneath the South Whidbey basket. Meridian milked the clock but missed its shot, yet Patrick Carlson made a steal and scored for a game-clinching 54-38 bulge.
Adding to the fans' fun, Patrick quickly followed with a 3-pointer on a pass from brother Logan, who early benefited from a couple of sharp passes by Patrick.
"Chad Richter played real well off the bench (in a sixth-man role)," Stacy said.
Todd was whistled for his fourth foul late in the third quarter, but the chess player's alert maneuvers kept him in the game.
The muscular 6-4 Blackburn scored on a tip-in for a 33-22 lead at the first-half buzzer. Meridian then came out blazing in the second half to cap a 13-0 run with a drive by Briones, who quickly made a steal and passed for a layup to Edward Garcia.
A moment later, Todd made one of his best moves with a 3-pointer from the corner when he worked hard to get wide open. That bucket trumped South Whidbey's best shot at a rally, giving the Trojans a 40-24 bulge.
Trevin Todd, Kelby's senior brother, also turned in meaningful minutes off the bench.
MERIDIAN 59, SOUTH WHIDBEY 42
SW 8 14 9 11 - 42
Meridian 14 19 13 13 - 59
South Whidbey: Nick French 10, Sam Turpin 8, Brandon Asay 6, Parker Collins 9, Taylor Simmons 2, Josh Bishop 3, Nick Bennett 2, Angus Jones 2, Chase Collins, Ricky Muzzy, Jordan Patrick, Nate Hanson. Team totals: 18-36 4-10 42.
Meridian: Edward Garcia 13, Blake Briones 11, Logan Carlson 8, Spencer Blackburn 5, Kelby Todd 5, Chad Richter 10, Patrick Carlson 5, Trevin Todd, Kyle Young 2, Jacob Plagerman, Sam Chambers. Team totals 25-49 3-5 59.
3 ptg: South Whidbey 2 (Turpin, Bishop); Meridian 6 (Briones 3). Rebounds: Meridian 26 (L. Carlson 8); South Whidbey 18 (French 6). Assists: Meridian 13 (Briones, Garcia, P. Carlson 3). Fouls: South Whidbey 9, Meridian 16 (Richter fouled out).