LYNDEN - Meridian guard Jacob Plagerman knew after the Trojans' regular-season loss to Lynden Christian, if they could get another chance to play the Lyncs, they could win.
Meridian ended the Northwest Conference slate ranked third defensively, and the Trojans showed why with an impressive fourth-quarter display of in-your-face, man-to-man defense.
"It's something we hang our hat on," Meridian coach Shane Stacy said, "and we have a lot of confidence in our defense."
Led by Plagerman, the Trojans offense finally got rolling in the fourth quarter, and their defense held Lynden Christian to its lowest scoring total of the year, as Meridian earned a 43-38 Class 1A Northwest District Tournament semifinal win Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Lynden Christian High School.
The win clinches the Trojans (12-10, 6-6 NWC) a tri-district tournament berth and a championship matchup against King's at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Mountlake Terrace High School. A win against King's would automatically send Meridian to the regional round of state.
The Lyncs (15-7, 9-3) will now face Mount Baker in a loser-out district consolation game at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at LC.
Plagerman scored 10 of his game-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, Meridian's leading scorer Alex Martin scored 10 points - nine of which were three 3-pointers within the first 2:40 of the game - and Nick Rautenberg added nine.
LC's Grant Wolffis scored a team-best 10 points, and Zach Roetcisoender contributed nine.
"It feels great," said Plagerman of the win. "After that first game, it really felt like we could come back and win. They have great players, but it felt like this time around we could play a better game, and we were ready to go tonight."
Once the Lyncs took away Martin by sticking Cody Fransen on him wherever he went, Meridian struggled to produce offense. The Trojans scored eight points in the second and managed just five more in the third quarter as they trailed 32-24.
But Meridian opened the fourth quarter on a 16-2 run and didn't allow a Lynden Christian field goal until Wolffis scored a bucket to cut the Trojans' lead to 40-36 with 1:25 left in the game.
Plagerman converted a three-point play to start the period before Sam Chambers made a pair of free throws to cut LC's lead to 32-29 with 7:24 to go. Rautenberg then drilled a big 3 from the right baseline to pull Meridian even.
After Lynden Christian gained back a two-point advantage, Plagerman hit two more free throws and then drained a 3-pointer following a Blake Briones field goal, giving Meridian a 38-34 with 2:59 to go.
Just like that, the Trojans outscored their second- and third-quarter production.
"Their defense is unbelievable, and we couldn't get into their bigs," Stacy said of LC. "We started to attack more."
Lynden Christian settled for outside shots the majority of the fourth quarter, and coach Roger De Boer pleaded with his team during a late timeout to attack the basket. LC shot 2 of 13 from the field in the final eight minutes.
Plagerman found Kyle Young under the basket for a layup that extended Meridian's lead to 40-34 with 1:35 to go, and the Trojans overcame Lynden Christian's full-court pressure in the final minutes, made their free throws and sealed the game.
"I think the difference is that they out-coached us," De Boer said. "They out-executed us; they out-physicaled us. They were, without a doubt, the better team down the stretch."
Meridian scored its 19 fourth-quarter points with only one, a free throw, from Martin.
The junior Trojan standout hit three 3s early to give Meridian a 9-2 lead to start the game. He only had two field goal attempts the rest of the game after De Boer opted to play a box-and-1 zone-style defense to neutralize him.
"The crazy thing was, how he got three looks still boggles my mind when we spent our entire emphasis on, 'We can't let him get loose,'" De Boer said. "It shows mentally we were not prepared."
Stacy said his group already has confidence but added a solidifying win like this should do wonders the rest of the postseason.
"We came in believing," he said, "and I think to capitalize on that belief can go a long way."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
MERIDIAN 43, LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 38
Meridian 11 8 5 19 - 43
Lynden Chr. 9 10 13 6 - 38
Meridian: Jacob Plagerman 12, Tanner Tutterow 0, Nick Rautenberg 9, Alex Martin 10, Sam Chambers 3, Kyle Young 6, Blake Briones 3. Team totals: 14-40 10-13 43.
Lynden Christian: Jake Van Berkum 0, Dalton Lootens 3, Jake Poag 3, Zach Roetcisoender 9, Grant Wolffis 10, Josh Hornstra 8, Cody Fransen 3, Logan Carlson 2, Lucas Roetcisoender 0. Team totals: 15-45 5-8 38.
3-ptg: Meridian 5 (Martin 3), Lynden Christian 3 (three with 1). Rebounds: Meridian 26 (Chambers/Briones 7), Lynden Christian 24 (Hornstra 10). Assists: Meridian 9 (Chambers 5), Lynden Christian 6 (Z. Roetcisoender 3). Fouls: Meridian 13, Lynden Christian 16. Turnovers: Meridian 13, Lynden Christian 12.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.