BELLINGHAM - Sehome's young boys' basketball team seems to be getting more intriguing with almost every game.
All-around standout Evan Miksovsky, the Mariners' only senior, gamely fought off an illness to finish with more assists (10) and rebounds (10) than field-goal attempts (a season-low seven) and points (four) in Sehome's 61-55 victory over Meridian on Monday, Feb. 3.
So it was up to Sehome's four junior starters and an improving junior sixth man to respond, and respond they did with ferocious defense and solid offense as the Mariners remained in strong contention for one of the Northwest Conference's four spots in the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament.
Sehome (13-5 overall, 7-3 NWC) moved one game up on Class 2A fifth-place Squalicum in the district scramble with two league games remaining for both. At this point, Meridian (9-9, 5-5) would have the third seed at Class 1A district with two games to go.
Mariners point guard Tanner Clark, playing what he agreed was his best game, scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, including a nifty shot off the glass for a 55-46 lead with 2:15 to play.
Junior guard Langston Engle, also in perhaps his most meaningful showing, scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and finished 6 for 8 from the field. His two free throws made it 60-51 with 49 seconds to play.
"The guy who really came up big with his hustle was Langston," Sehome coach A.J. LaBree said. "There was a three-minute span in the last quarter where Langston didn't slow down for a second."
Meanwhile, Sehome guard Leif Anderson and 6-foot-3 post Duncan James combined for 17 points and 6-foot-4 Sam Carroll was constantly active in his sixth-man role.
The Mariners needed every bit of hustle they could muster - they finished with 14 steals and helped force 21 turnovers - to fend off potential-laden Meridian junior Kyle Young, a muscular 6-foot-3 post who scored 12 of the Trojans' 28 second-half points.
The game was a 27-all tie at halftime thanks to junior point guard Alex Martin's 10 second-quarter points for Meridian. Martin, though, was open for only four shots in the second half and made two, both 3-pointers, to finish with four 3-pointers and a team-high 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
"We just played Martin straight up," LaBree said. "I'm glad he got that few shots."
Meridian coach Shane Stacy expressed the need for Martin, a talented ball-handler, at point guard in order to try to cut down on turnovers. Martin thus isn't likely to get as many shots as a shooting guard would.
"Sehome definitely upped the pressure on us," said Stacy. "It was one of our most disappointing games, since we're fighting for seeding at districts."
Clark said Meridian's recent historic win over Squalicum - which beat Sehome earlier - let the Mariners know they would need to be at least close to their best.
"We knew this would be a very tough game," said Clark, who finished with 8-for-15 shooting, including 3 for 3 from the field in the final quarter.
Miksovsky expressed excitement over the juniors' improvement.
"These guys are definitely getting better," he said. "Tanner Clark has some great hands. Tanner and Leif have been working hard together since fifth grade, so they really know each other well."
Anderson set the Mariners' defensive tone with three steals in the game's first 80 seconds, and Sehome never stopped trying to disrupt Meridian any way possible.
Senior guards Jacob Plagerman and Sam Chambers finished with 10 and eight points, respectively, for Meridian. Plagerman scored eight points in the first half to team with Martin to help throw a scare into Sehome with the first-half tie.
The Trojans opened the second half with a 7-0 run on a basket by Chambers, a 3-pointer by Martin and a twisting shot by Blake Briones. But Sehome's pressure soon proved too much behind Anderson, who finished with six steals, and Clark, who wound up with five thefts.
Down 34-27, Engle scored on a drive, Clark scored off an Anderson steal, Miksovsky scored off a Clark steal and James scored on Clark's pass, all in a blitz. Clark's 3-point play and Anderson's 3-pointer late in the third period put the Mariners up for good.
Sehome plays at league-leading Lynden Christian on Friday, Feb. 7, and winds up at home against Burlington-Edison on Feb. 11. Squalicum also has a tough final two games - at home against LC on Tuesday, Feb. 4, and against district title contender Anacortes.
Meridian welcomes Mount Baker on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and hosts 2A district contender Lynden on Thursday, Feb. 6.
SEHOME 61, MERIDIAN 55
Meridian 11 16 13 15-55
Sehome 12 15 16 18-61
Meridian: Alex Martin 18, Kyle Young 14, Jacob Plagerman 10, Sam Chambers 8, Blake Briones 2, Nick Rautenberg 3, Tanner Tutterrow 0. Team totals: 20-49 11-16 55.
Sehome: Evan Miksovsky 4, Tanner Clark 21, Langston Engle 13, Leif Anderson 9, Duncan James 8, Sam Carroll 2, Elijah Andrushenko 2, Marcus Montag 2. Team totals: 25-51 8-12 61.
3ptg: Meridian 4 (Martin 4); Sehome 3 (Anderson 2). Rebounds: Meridian 28 (Plagerman, Rautenberg 6); Sehome 25 (Miksovsky 10). Assists: Meridian 9 (Plagerman, Briones 3); Sehome 17 (Miksovsky 10). Total fouls: Meridian 13, Sehome 15.