LAUREL - Many of Meridian's basketball fans doubtless left the gym wondering just how good junior center Kyle Young can be.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they'll have to wait until next season to learn more.
The mobile and muscular 6-foot-3 Young made 10 of 11 shots and produced game highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds, but Meridian suffered a classic heartbreaker in the final second as Seattle Christian earned a 44-42 win in a loser-out opening game of the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
"You know what really hurts about this?" said Meridian coach Shane Stacy, who spent a lot of time in the post-loss locker room with his three seniors, Blake Briones, Jacob Plagerman and Sam Chambers. "We really wanted to spend more time together."
Stacy shook off heartbreak to pay tribute to his seniors: "Those kids will be winners their entire lives. I really think they'll do wonderful things. They were very special for us."
With Meridian (12-12) down 42-36 with 1 minute and 36 seconds remaining, Briones drove the middle hard twice, the first time for a basket and the second time resulting in two free throws with 1:04 left.
The Trojans forced Seattle Christian (14-8), a hard-driving club from the Nisqually League, into a turnover and called a timeout with 21 seconds left.
Briones worked the clock down and worked himself open for a jumper from the top of the key. He found nothing but net, producing a 42-all with 3.6 seconds left and what seemed like overtime.
"I figured if I didn't do it now (in the final two minutes), I might never do it," said Briones, who left the locker room with red eyes and head held high. He helped Young greatly with a game-high five assists.
Briones indeed "did it," but his heroics left just enough time for Seattle Christian to pull off a designed play.
Freshman reserve Tyler Fox, a standout baseball prospect at pitcher and shortstop, took the ball out of bounds and threw a pin-point, full-court pass to rugged Cody Miller. The 6-foot-4 four-year scoring standout caught the ball over his shoulder, made a quick move, and scored with four-tenths of a second to go.
"Sure, we trust him," Miller said of Fox, when asked why a freshman reserve would be chosen to make the critical pass with his team's season on the line. "That was a designed play. Tyler has a great arm."
Miller, who led the Warriors with 19 points and shot 8 for 10 - with a pair of 3-pointers by the big guy - said it was only the second time in his four years as a starter that he had ever had the chance for a last-second game-winner.
"We tried the same thing when I was a sophomore against King's and it didn't work," said Miller.
Plagerman left the gym in awe of the potential of Young and junior guard Alex Martin, the team's season-long scoring leader. The Warriors focused on Martin over the first three quarters and then covered Young so well that he didn't get a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
"Young has been great all year," said Plagerman when asked about Young's potential, indicating he felt Young had great potential. "He's really an unselfish guy."
Plagerman played a solid final game with 4-for-9 shooting for nine points, including Meridian's only 3-pointer, to help produce a 35-all tie after three quarters.
Plagerman, who intends to play college baseball, said he'll be following next year's Trojans avidly from a distance.
"You know, it's going to be really tough not to play with all these guys again," said Plagerman.
Stacy was proud of his team's all-out effort against a team that played just as hard in a wild scramble.
"This comes with the business," he said of one of his toughest losses in nine seasons with the varsity boys. "It really was a hard-fought game. I can't adequately put into words the pride I feel in our guys. We have guys with great character, and that comes with coming from families of great character."
The Trojans outrebounded the Warriors 31-25, but Seattle Christian hit 17 of 38 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, and went 6-for-8 from the line. Meridian shot 17 for 46 from the field and 7 for 14 from the line.
Martin scored four points in the opening quarter, but he has long since acquired a reputation as a "must-guard" player, so he was open for only three shots in the second half.
Chambers played gritty defense throughout and came up with loose balls several times with noteworthy hustle.
SEATTLE CHRISTIAN 44, MERIDIAN 42
Seattle Christian 9 17 9 9 - 44
Meridian 11 11 13 7 - 42
Seattle Christian: Cody Miller 19, Taggart Anderson 5, Alex Hay 3, Payton Gunhus 6, Ryan Gifford 0, Jeffrey Sutherland 6, Tyler Fox 5. Team totals: 17-38 6-8 44.
Meridian: Kyle Young 23, Jacob Plagerman 9, Alex Martin 4, Blake Briones 6, Sam Chambers 0, Nick Rautenberg 0, Tanner Tutterrow 0, Cody Bachman 0. Team totals: 17-46 7-14 42.
3-ptg: Seattle Christian 4 (Miller 2); Meridian 1 (Plagerman). Rebounds: Seattle Christian 25 (Anderson 7); Meridian 31 (Young 10). Assists: Seattle Christian 6 (Gifford 3); Meridian 9 (Briones 5). Total fouls: Seattle Christian 13 (Sutherland); Meridian 9.