BLAINE - When Meridian "settles for too many early 3-point attempts," as coach Shane Stacy put it, the Trojans may well experience a nightmarish quarter.
When the young Trojans make a few more patient passes and attack the basket, they can score at a clip that would put them over 100 points for an entire game.
That's the way it worked out in Meridian's 56-54 non-league victory over Blaine in a non-league matchup of Class 1A Northwest Conference boys' basketball rivals on Monday, Dec. 16.
By "early," Stacy meant too many possessions ended with hasty long shots. The Trojans (2-1) certainly wasted a lot of those while shooting 1 for 10 from the field and scoring only five points in the second quarter, giving the Borderites (1-3) the chance for a 26-18 halftime lead.
It was a far different story in an awe-inspiring 27-point third quarter, when the Trojans shot 10 for 15 from the field, including a pair of well-earned 3-pointers by quick 6-foot-2 junior forward Alex Martin.
"Shaun (Blaine coach Shaun Pile) did a great job of mixing up his defenses and confusing us in the second quarter," said Stacy.
Meridian's big guns - Martin, 6-foot-3 junior post Kyle Young and senior leader Blake Briones - scored 24 of the 27 points, and top reserve Tanner Tutterrow had the other three.
"The sky's the limit for Alex," said Stacy of Martin, who finished with a game-high 22 points while shooting an aggressive 7 for 19 from the field and 5 for 6 from the line. Martin also contributed five steals and six rebounds. "I wasn't surprised by Alex's performance in the second half (17 points). By the end of last season (on the junior varsity), he had become one of the best players in our program."
Briones, who had only one point at halftime, turned it on in the third quarter with eight points, including 3 for 3 shooting from the field.
"I just told myself I needed to come out with more energy and put the first half behind me," said Briones. "I've learned to do that - to not get down on myself."
Young, looking as though he could develop into one of the league's best centers, went 5 for 6 from the field. He scored in every quarter to finish with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Tutterrow and fellow junior Cody Bachman both hit 3s in a reserve role, each shortly after checking in to the game for the first time.
Blaine fell behind 52-39 in the fourth quarter - Meridian's biggest lead - but displayed its potential with a scary 12-0 run over a 4-minute span. Sophomore guard Josiah Westbrook, who led the Borderites with 14 points, scored eight during the run and freshman reserve Anthony Ball contributed two vital free throws.
But the Trojans ended Blaine's run and scored their final four points in free throws by Martin - two with 24 seconds left and two with 5.6 seconds to go - for a game-clinching 56-51 lead.
Sophomore guard Carson Knutzen hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Blaine, giving him 12 points after going 5 for 8 for the night.
Blaine sophomore Shaquille Woods, a 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound post, displayed what more than one onlooker called "great hands" and unusual athleticism for a big guy with a game-high 12 rebounds in a reserve role from the second quarter on. Sean Herrig, a hard-working junior guard, shot 5 for 9 with a pair of 3-pointers for 12 points in an encouraging showing for his coaches.
Stacy also liked how reserve post Nick Rautenberg, a 6-foot-3 junior, gave the Trojans a lift late in the first half with a nifty layup on a fine pass from Young. Seniors Jacob Plagerman and Sam Chambers, both starters, were gritty in the second half defensively.
Briones has been especially impressed with Martin's improvement.
"Alex worked real hard in the off-season," the senior captain said. "He's really improved. We spent all summer as a team and it's really paying off."
Both teams will play their league openers on Thursday, Dec. 19 - their only league games until January. Blaine will host Lynden Christian and Meridian will visit Nooksack Valley.
MERIDIAN 56, BLAINE 54
Meridian 13 5 27 11 -- 56
Blaine 12 14 11 17 -- 54
Meridian: Alex Martin 22, Kyle Young 14, Blake Briones 9, Sam Chambers 0, Jacob Plagerman 0, Tanner Tutterrow 6, Cody Bachman 3, Nick Rautenberg 2, Brady Moore 0. Team totals: 19-46 13-23 56.
Blaine: Josiah Westbrook 14, Sean Herrig 12, Carson Knutzen 12, Ryan Randell 5, Cole Muder 0, Jon Fakkema 2, Anthony Ball 3, Ben Hodgin 0, Shaquille Woods 6. Team totals: 18-53 14-21 54.
3ptg: Martin 3, Tutterrow 1, Bachman 1; Herrig 2, Randell 1, Knutzen 1. Rebounds: Meridian 32 (Young 8); Blaine 36 (Woods 12). Assists: Meridian 10 (Briones, Plagerman 3); Blaine 8 (Westbrook 4). Fouls: Meridian 19 (Young fouled out); Blaine 19.