If Meridian’s potential-packed girls can find an offensive rhythm with at least four starters at the top of their games against the best Class 1A basketball teams the state can offer, look out.
Even though the Trojans lost to a 1A state trophy contender for the second time in three games, 5-foot-10 sophomore post Jolee Sipma and junior guard Lindsey Moore provided considerable encouragement for coach Mark Gilmore.
Moore, who came in with one 3-pointer in the first six games, made four 3s and Sipma scored all of her season high 13 points in the second half of Meridian’s 56-49 loss to La Center (7-1) in the Cloud 9 Sports Christmas Classic Wednesday at Lynden Christian.
Defensive standout Sipma, who helped the Trojans to their first state berth in 14 years as a freshman last winter, was as hot as she’s ever been. She made five consecutive baskets for 11 points in the third quarter after she missed almost all of the first half with two quick fouls.
“We just had to have Jolee in the game in the second half,” Gilmore said.
Moore, in her best game, felt good about her development, what with hours and hours of shooting work.
“I haven’t shot much (so far in games) but I feel I can do it,” Moore said, indicating her effort did, indeed, display her potential.
Ellesse FitzGerald joined Moore with four 3s for 12 points for Meridian (5-2), but that was hardly a surprise, coming from one of the best long-range shooters in the Northwest Conference.
“We just haven’t found our offensive rhythm,” Gilmore said of his state trophy hopefuls, who came in ranked fourth among the state’s Class 1A teams to La Center’s fifth. “We have lots of firepower when we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Longtime La Center coach Herm VanWeerdhuizen was impressed with Meridian’s potential, saying “They’re a good team. Let’s not kid ourselves … and they’re well coached.”
La Center played only six girls, all but one a senior. They all performed with much-needed intensity in the fourth quarter, especially after junior Makenna Holz gave the Trojans a 49-46 lead on a drive with 3:40 remaining for her first basket of the game.
The Wildcats scored the final eight points, including a pair of 3s by 6-1 junior star Taylor Stephens. Stephens finished with a game-high five 3-pointers and 25 points, including two free throws with 16 seconds left to clinch the victory. Her 18 second-half points were the difference after Sipma helped hold 6-2 Taylor Mills to six points after halftime.
Mills finished with 18 points via 9-for-18 shooting. Stephens and Mills may be as potent a pair as the Trojans will see all season, notwithstanding the plethora of talent at Lynden Christian, which was a recent 54-34 winner over Meridian even though the Trojans limited the Lyncs to nearly 20 points fewer than their season average.