HOOPS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

in Basketball

After a short-lived holiday break, Meridian boys basketball goes back to work against Oglesby as final tune-up before opening District 12-2A play

MERIDIAN – Unable to get on the basketball court to play a game for the last 14 days, the Meridian Yellowjacket boys basketball team will return to action to hoop it up during the holidays just in time to get ready for district competition.

Battling Covid-19 precaution protocols, the Jackets (2-7) have not played a game since Dec. 15. Forced to cancel their non-district game at Holland Dec. 18, Meridian postponed its District 12-2A opener at Italy Dec. 22 as coaches and players remained in self-quarantine.

Fortunately, Meridian’s second-year head coach Carlos Johansson picked up an additional game to fill an open date Dec. 29, hosting Oglesby at 6 p.m. in Jacket Gymnasium to get tuned up for the rescheduled district opener on the road against the Italy Gladiators Jan. 1.

Going into quarantine riding a four-game losing streak, Meridian ran out of gas in a lopsided loss at DeLeon, 68-22, Dec. 15 after battling in down-to-the-buzzer losses to Texas Wind, 47-43, and Dawson, 39-37, in overtime.

Despite trailing by only 20-17 at intermission, the Jackets proved to be no match for the Bearcats in the second half as DeLeon ran away with the resounding win.

“I thought we battled in the first half against a good DeLeon team,” Johansson said. “In the second half, I thought our lack of experience caught up to us. We’re still pretty young. And with the lack of numbers, it can get pretty tough. But overall, I thought we worked hard to the very end.”

On the road against Dawson Dec. 11, the Jackets swarmed to a commanding 18-3 first quarter lead. But the Bulldogs answered by outscoring Meridian, 13-4, in the second period to pull within five points. After battling to a stalemate in the third, Dawson outscored the Jackets, 11-4, in the final frame to force overtime before putting the win away.

Senior Gabe Nunez led the Jackets with 11 points and six rebounds, followed by senior David Watson with nine, while senior Dylan Poole and sophomore Jon Bernal added eight points apiece.

“We started off really hot with great execution,” Johansson said. “ We fought and competed the whole game. It’s unfortunate that we did not come out with the win, but the boys definitely received a great deal of experience. Most of my kids have never played an overtime game at the varsity level. So, it was good for them.”

But the Jackets were no strangers to close games. Just three days earlier, Meridian lost a heartbreaker to Texas Wind at home Dec. 8.

After battling to a 14-14 first quarter tie, the Texas Wind blew past the Jackets in the second period to take a comfortable 29-18 advantage into halftime. But Meridian responded in the third by outscoring the Wind, 20-11, before falling at the buzzer.

Watson led the Jackets with 15 points and seven rebounds, followed by Nunez with 12 while Poole dished out a team-high seven assists.

“Even though we were down 11 at half, it turned out to come out to the wire,” Johansson said. “We made some adjustments for a comeback in the third. We kept it pretty close and had a good look at the basket to put us ahead late in the fourth, but unfortunately it did not go down.

“I’m very proud of our boys for fighting to come back in the game. We’re still improving with each game as we inch closer to district.”

After opening the season with back-to-back losses to Clifton, 41-28, and Santo, 36-21, the Jackets notched one in the win column with a convincing 61-35 home victory over the Iredell Dragons Dec. 1. Coming out of the locker room after a hard-fought first half, Meridian dominated Iredell, 23-5, in the third to take control of the game.

Four Jackets scored in double figures, led by Bernal with 17 points, followed by Poole with 13, senior Camron Sheffer with 11 and Watson with 10. Sophomore Brady Taylor dominated the boards with seven rebounds while Bernal came up with a team-high five steals.

“It was a great win for the boys,” Johansson said. “They’ve been working extremely hard. Our defense is starting to get to where we need it to be around this time of the season. We are halfway through the preseason, and we will continue to get better.”

Since Covid-19 protocol led the cancellation of all tournaments this season, Meridian only played four games before the Thanksgiving break. But Johansson felt like the Jackets made the most of their limited opportunities.

“We got after it in all of our games,” Johansson said. “ We lost some close games, but we gained a lot of experience within those games, and it will help us going forward. “I have one returning senior this year and a sophomore heavy group. It’s going to be a learning year, but I hope to get a high level of play come district time. With that said, we aim to return back to the playoffs this year.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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