LAUREL - Meridian's boys' basketball team knows what it takes to attack a zone defense: ball movement and hitting open shots. Alex Martin was the man hitting those open shots in the Trojans' 61-45 win over Mount Baker on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Martin led all scorers with 24 points including five 3-pointers.
"It's just another day at the office," Martin said. "I was just feeling it tonight."
Martin opened up the rest of Meridian's attack after he scored 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting in the first quarter. Baker was forced to extend its zone to limit his offense which opened up Nick Rautenberg inside. Rautenberg scored 10 points on the night.
"The interior passing tonight was great," Meridian coach Shane Stacy said. "We knew we would be facing some zone teams down the stretch and we have been working on it. There have been successes and failures."
Chalk Wednesday night up in the success column. The ball never stopped moving from player to player, Stacy constantly shouting from the bench, "Move it, move it!"
Which they did, and more often than not it was Martin waiting, who seemed unstoppable in the first half. Actually, he almost was unstoppable. He missed only one of his seven shots in the first half.
Twice his made buckets were with a hand in his face, but he had no doubt they were going in as he held his wrist in position until the ball sank through the net.
"We lost composure and focus and once that happened we left Martin - one of the best players in the league - wide open," Baker coach Rob Gray said.
Martin also had four steals on the night and his length frustrated Baker's Isaac Gilmore, who was given a technical foul in the third quarter after a defensive foul was called on him.
The game was back and forth at the start with Martin and Reuben Murashov trading buckets, but two scores by Blake Briones, who finished with eight points, gave Meridian a 9-8 lead and the Trojans never gave it back. They extended the lead in the second quarter with a 14-0 run led by Rautenberg, who scored six of the points.
The Trojans took a 39-23 lead into halftime after they went 16 for 27 from the field. Meridian outscored the Mountaineers 21-9 in the second quarter.
The second half was an entirely different story, with Baker looking like they might muster a comeback. Colton Ranson led the charge for the Mountaineers, as he grabbed three steals and scored seven points in the second half. His high-intensity play flustered the Trojans, who oftentimes couldn't get the ball past half court in the third quarter.
"Colton played hard," Gray said. "He's a competitor and he's becoming more and more coachable."
Although Ranson, whose 14 points came in the second and fourth quarters, was the instigator for the Mountaineers in the third quarter charge, he wasn't the one scoring. In the third quarter, Murashov had five points, Seth Bass had four points, and Drew Nicol, Conner Brandland and Josh Barbo all had two.
"I felt like we came with intensity on defense," Gray said. "We focused on getting defensive stops and were able to score from there."
But the charge wasn't enough for Baker, which was getting beat on the glass throughout the game. The Trojans outrebounded the Mountaineers 27-18 and had three players - Rautenberg, Martin and Briones - with five rebounds a piece.
"Nick Rautenberg's activity on the glass helped us a lot," Stacy said. "He's a big-energy guy and he continued where he left off. Once that happened we were able to move the ball."
For Baker, Murashov, who scored 13 points, was the difference-maker early on, as he scored eight points in the first quarter. But Murashov's success tapered off as the Mountaineers' turnovers increased. The Mountaineers had 19 turnovers on the night and many of them were unforced.
The turnovers meant fewer shots for the Mountaineers, who only took 38 shots in the game, the same number the Trojans had through three quarters.
The 12-point lead the Trojans took into the fourth quarter quickly dropped to nine, but a 9-point run by Meridian to increase the lead to 18 and put the game out of reach.
With the win, Meridian breaks the .500 mark and moves to 10-9 on the season and 6-5 in the Northwest Conference. The Trojans are firmly planted in the No. 2 spot of the 1As, out of reach of Lynden Christian (NWC 9-2) and well above Blaine (NWC 3-8). The Trojans play their last regular-season contest against Lynden on Thursday, Feb. 6, at home.
Baker (3-16, NWC 1-10) has one last chance to get a win when they play Bellingham on Friday, Feb. 7, at home.
MERIDIAN 61, MOUNT BAKER 45
Mount Baker 14 9 15 7 - 45
Meridian 18 21 11 11 - 61
Mount Baker: Isaac Gilmore 2, Reuben Murashov 13, Drew Nicol 2, Seth Bass 6, Colton Ranson 14, Conner Brandland 6, Josh Barbo 2, Andrew Zender 0. Team totals: 18-38 5-14 45.
Meridian: Jake Plagerman 5, Tanner Tutterow 2, Brady Moore 0, Nick Rautenberg 12, Alex Martin 24, Sam Chambers 4, Kyle Young 2, Derek Campfield 2, Cody Bachman 0, Dan Young 0, Devyn Holmes 0. Blake Briones 8. Team totals: 25-47 5-8 61.
3-ptg: Mount Baker 3 (Ranson 3), Meridian 6 (Martin 5). Rebounds: Mount Baker 18 (Brandland 6), Meridian 27 (Rautenberg, Martin, Briones 5). Assists: Mount Baker 8 (Gilmore, Zender, Murashov 2), Meridian 14 (Plagerman, Briones 4). Fouls: Mount Baker 14, Meridian 13. Turnovers: Mount Baker 19, Meridian 14.