(Updated with correct day of next MHS game and additional quotes, information) Fast start, stifling defense, scoring balance mark repeat win over La Plata Tuesday (March 3, 2020). Meadville to meet big St. Elizabeth Friday night

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

SALISBURY, Mo. — Getting about whatever shots they wanted on offense and frustrating La Plata’s search for good looks at the hoop, Meadville High School’s basketball Eagles comfortably advanced to the Class 1 state tournament quarterfinals with a wire-to-wire 54-39 victory over their Tri-County Conference rival Tuesday night.

The Tri-County champs (26-2) posted the first points of their second meeting with La Plata in three weeks on Conner Fletcher’s left-corner trifecta of an Ethan Newlin pass 1:16 into the action at the Salisbury High School dome gym and the Bulldogs never drew back even.
With Fletcher and Parker Burton each nailing a couple of treys and the MHS man-to-man defense giving La Plata trouble finding clear shots, Meadville seized a 14-6 lead after one period and kept building on it.
“Last time (against La Plata), I thought we came out flat,” MHS head coach Drew Nier assessed in a post-game visit with the C-T. “Tonight, we were in ‘attack’ mode early and we were getting some great drive-and-kick-out opportunities for Fletcher to shoot. When he’s shooting it like that, we’re pretty good offensively.”
He added, regarding the defensive performance, “I thought Ethan Newlin did a great job on (LPHS guard Jarrett Buescher), not allowing him to be a facilitator. We wanted to make him a finisher and especially make him a slasher and try to score that way.”
Trey Gannan’s setup of Fletcher on the right wing for a triple to start the second quarter gave the Eagles a twin-figures lead for the first time. An answering “3” by La Plata within seconds cut the gap back to eight, but less than 25 seconds after that, Fletcher found the range from beyond the arc a fourth time in the first 9:10 and Meadville was up by double-digits for the rest of the night.
Had the Eagles not missed several inside shots and free throws, they’d have led by at least 20 at halftime, but had to settle for a still-cushy 30-13 margin, led by 14 Fletcher markers.
About five minutes into the third quarter, Meadville had an anxious moment when Burton limped toward the bench and was replaced. He sat out the rest of the period, which saw La Plata score the last five points to close to within 40-29.
With Burton returning to the court from what head coach Drew Nier reported apparently was a painful bruise at the start, the Eagles reasserted their control.
T. Gannan set Burton up for a left-side lay-in and Dominik Gannan popped an open “3” from the left wing in the first 90 seconds of the fourth period to offset La Plata’s good finish to the third stanza and the eventual outcome became increasingly certain.
Four points in a row by D. Gannan in the middle portion of the frame created the game’s widest split, 51-32, with 3:42 remaining.
Statistically Tuesday, Meadville had only four players get involved in its scoring, but each of them reached twin figures. Scoring 16 after intermission, D. Gannan led all scorers with 20 points.
“I thought Dominik played a phenomenal second half, once he slowed down a little bit and just relied on what the defense was giving him,” observed the Eagles coach. “I thought in the first half, he was forcing just a little bit and got a little bit overeager to try to make his mark on the game.”
Fletcher contented himself with his 14 from the first half, while Burton and T. Gannan each hit for 10.
“Some of the other guys kind of relaxed a little bit when we got up like that, which is something we’re not going to be able to do going forward,” warned Nier. “We’ll talk about that.”
La Plata’s top scorer was Gage McHenry with 17.
Tuesday’s triumph advances Meadville to Friday’s 8:15 p.m. state-quarterfinals contest against St. Elizabeth (23-5) at Moberly Area Community College.
St. Elizabeth, which regularly plays larger and much-larger schools, has won 15 in a row, including its 46-44 sectional win over Cairo Tuesday. The Hornets feature not only talent, but much more size than the Eagles, Nier notes.
“They’re huge,” Nier said of the Bearcats, who’ll have only about an 8-miles trip to Saturday’s game site. “They have a lot of size. They’re tall and they have length and they have athleticism.
“… These guys have phenomenal size for this level. Keeping them off the boards is going to be huge for us and limiting where ther ‘bigs’ can get the ball around the basket.”
The MHS coach says using quickness to deny the bigger Hornets the offensive positioning they want will be highly-important.
“Limit their scorers the areas and the zones their players get the ball in, so we can try to take away their strong suits,” Nier details.
“We preach (to the players) that we can make life tough on people defensively with our athleticism and our ability to cover people up and change the way they want to attack us,” he expands.
As for the Eagles’ offensive end, the coach asserts his squad cannot be timid about attacking the lane and the basket.
“We’re going to have to be in dribble-drive mode and we’re going to have to be threats to finish around the rim,” Nier declares, “but then we’re also going to have to find open avenues on the ‘kick-outs.’ It’s going to be big for us to make (outside) shots.”
Not squandering chances at the foul line also will be a must.
“In a close game, those are going to be huge and we’ve got to be able to make free throws,” Nier agreed after watching his club make only three of 10 against La Plata.
The nearest thing to a common opponent for Meadville and St. Elizabeth is Cairo.
While the Eagles did not face the Bearcats during the Salisbury Invitational Tournament, Cairo did dispatch Paris by 14 in its semifinals, after which – a month later – Meadville got past the Coyotes by four.