By Jim Hunter
There was no denying the Bulldogs on Friday night — err, the Bulldog seniors.
Playing without their coach Norm Price and letting a 16-point, first-half lead slip away, the senior-ladened MASH unit — celebrating senior night — pulled it together in the final two minutes of the game for an 82-78 victory over Oil City in Region 5 action at the House of Thrills.
With the win, Meadville (16-6, 11-5) assured itself of second place in the league as the Bulldogs beat Farrell (14-8, 11-5) twice during the regular season.
Price missed the regular-season finale due to flu-like symptoms. His top assistant, Chuck Jones, who coached the Bulldogs from 1994 through 2004, filled in.
Jones found himself in a pressure-cooker.
“Yeah, it’s been a while since I was in this position,” he said, who was informed at 1 p.m. yesterday that Price wasn’t going to be able to attend the game.
The Jones-led Bulldogs got off to a sizzling start — hitting 10 of their first 12 shots to take a 23-11 first-quarter lead.
Senior Trevor Clune was the catalyst in the opening stanza with 10 points. He hit all four of his shots, including two 3-pointers. Senior swingman Donte Hollingsworth dropped in seven.
Getting four points each from Clune, senior Zak Price and junior Jake Gregor, Meadville maintaned the upper hand in the second quarter as the Bulldogs took a 40-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The game started slipping away from the ’Dogs in the second half.
“They (Oil City) made some adjustments that gave us some problems,” said Jones.
Trailing 48-35, the Oilers reeled off eight unanswered points to cut Meadville’s lead to 48-43 with 2:05 remaining in the third period.
Down 63-55, Oil City got Jones & Co. a little nervous as the Oilers’ Devin Geib sank two free throws and Frank Serbati scored on a three-point play to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 63-60 with 3:41 left in the game.
Then, with 2:21 on the clock, Logan Way completed a three-point play to get the Oilers within 67-65.
Oh-no ... another slip-away game for the ’Dogs? Not this time.
Ramping up the defensive pressure, the Bulldogs fought off the Oilers as Price (after a steal from sophomore Faizon McClure) scored on an offensive rebound and Hollingsworth swished two free throws after a steal to give the Bulldogs a 72-65 lead with 1:28 left in the game.
The Bulldogs then preserved the “W” by making 10 straight free throws in the closing minute — Price (four), Clune (two), Hollingsworth (two) and senior Malik Anderson (two).
“Coach Price would have been proud how we performed down the stretch ... hitting the free throws and not turning the ball over,” said Jones.
Concluding, Jones raved about his strong-minded squad, “You have to give our kids a lot of credit. These last couple days were disarray with Norm being out. I think a lesser team would have folded under these conditions ... but not these kids. We didn’t want to send our seniors out with a loss.”
’Dog Bones: Clune and Hollingsworth were a powerful 1-2 punch with 23 and 21 points, respectively. Clune was 8-for-11 from the floor and Hollingsworth connected on seven of 14 shots ... Price also hit double digits with 14. He also led the Bulldogs with four assists ... Geib, who drained six 3-pointers, paced Oil City with 20.