Meadville sweeps prep hoops district titles for first time in eight years
MHS boys follow girls’ title night before with 56-48 District 12 title triumph Friday
By PAUL STURM, C-T/Linn County Leader Sports Editor
TINA — For the first time in eight years, both Meadville High School basketball teams will be involved in their respective gender’s state tournament.
As a cherry atop that whipped cream, both get to tip off state play at home this week.
With the Lady Eagles having disposed of top-seeded Tina-Avalon decisively in the Class 1 District 12 Tournament girls’ championship contest on the same floor 24 hours earlier, Meadville’s Eagles took the lead for good with a 10-3 spurt in the waning minutes of the first half and eventually closed out top-seeded Mendon: Northwestern’s Eagles 56-48 for their second-straight district crown last Friday at Tina-Avalon School.
Those outcomes advance the MHS teams to the first (sectional) round of the 16-teams state tournament, which this year – as a means of limiting the potential for transmission of COVID-19 – will be staged on separate nights.
The boys (20-5) were first, playing Tuesday against Green City at 6 p.m., with the girls (23-3) taking on North Shelby on Wednesday, also at 6 p.m.
Those games will be on the MHS court, according to Drew Nier, Meadville head coach/athletics director, because the Meadville teams have either played fewer home postseason games to date than the foe or have played on the road more recently.
Similar to the opening round, the state tourney’s quarterfinals will occur on staggered dates, too, this coming weekend – the boys’ on Friday night and girls’ on Saturday afternoon.
The Meadville boys' district title and advancement to state play is made more remarkable in retrospect, recalling that, within the first three weeks of the season, they owned only a 5-4 record and had finished behind both Northwestern and Hale/Bosworth in the Northwestern Invitational Tournament. MHS beat both of those nearby rivals during the district tourney.
Meadville's boys enter state play having won 15 of their last 16 games.
The Meadville boys’ victory over Northwestern had a little extra sweetness for three Eagles who generally have toiled well outside the spotlight.
Junior Wade VanDyke shot perhaps only three times the entire game, but once in each half he made Northwestern pay for leaving him unguarded on the perimeter by sinking a 3-points set shot that helped his team get important additional separation.
Senior guard Timber Hinnen, elevated to the starting lineup a month earlier when a knee injury ended Kaje Tsikoyak’s season, provided a pair of first-half free throws and a trey that started the second-half scoring to join Van Dyke in helping supplement the scoring from top guns Conner Fletcher and Trey Gannan.
Finally, with less than two minutes remaining, Meadville (20-5) trying to withstand a last-gasp Northwestern push which seemed to be getting traction, and MHS starters Hinnen and Parker Hammond on the bench with five fouls, sophomore Blayne Burks made his first entry to the contest and, fouled shortly thereafter, calmly made both attempts in the 1-and-1 situation.
Those timely contributions, when paired with Gannan’s “quiet” 23 tallies and 14 by Fletcher – which included consecutive right-side triples early in the fourth period as Meadville ran its lead up to about 15, meant another chance to play at home and the latest of numerous MHS Eagles appearances in state play over the past 15 years.
Aside from a couple of brief moments early in the second quarter, Meadville led throughout the game, but never by enough to create a sense of it being in control.
However, with Northwestern seemingly a bit off-kilter offensively as it ushered its top player, Hunter Stockwell, back to the starting lineup for the first time in about five games, Meadville was getting steady enough production to consistently lead by multiple-possession margins.
Northwestern had seen junior Gannon Johnson and sophomore Trey Stockwell step up to play bigger offensive roles while H. Stockwell’s injured shoulder was being protected and preserved for district play, but, with his return to the lineup Friday, those two seemed less sure and confident of how assertive they could or should be. That apparent uncertainty translated to their combining for only three points and those on a meaningless T. Stockwell trey in the last minute after the outcome was decided.
Given his sparing game use of late, the elder Stockwell – one of four senior starters for the Mendon-based team – was fairly effective at both ends of the floor.
On defense, he rebounded well and rejected at least a couple of shots around the basket. On offense, he had eight first-half points, then powered his way to the basket for five baskets plus a free throw in the fourth period to finish with a team-high 21 points.
Fellow 12th graders Isaac Zahner and Clayton Gregory supported with 11 and 10, respectively, but the mere six points from the rest of the squad proved costly.
Meadville, conversely, had only two twin-figures scorers, but its “supporting cast” delivered 19 points, including those aforementioned as being as important for their timeliness as their volume.
An easily-overlooked factor in how the game played out – with Northwestern always trying to chase Meadville down on the scoreboard – was the Mendon-area team’s inability to cash in at a good rate at the free-throw line, especially in the first half.
It made only two of seven attempts in the first period, allowing Meadville to ease out to its multi-possessions lead, rather than it being a 1- or 2-point game. Eventually, NHS sank only seven of 15 foul shots, while Meadville, which wasn’t great, converted 11 of 18.