By Pete Chiodo
At the beginning of the week, the Meadville boys basketball team was staring down a tough two-game Region 5 slate; it was without the services of one of its top scorers, Donte Hollingsworth, who was ineligible; and it was in a must-win situation to remain a playoff contender.
Now, as the week comes to a close, the Bulldogs have dealt with Hollingsworth’s absence better than could be expected, sweeping that tough two-game schedule. And in doing so, they’ve moved themselves into second place in Region 5.
On the heels of Tuesday’s brilliant come-from-behind win over Farrell, the ’Dogs went right back to work on Thursday night, topping Franklin for a hard-fought 54-51 win at the House of Thrills.
“This was a gut-check for us,” said Meadville head coach Norm Price. “It was just a real nice win. It was a very emotional game Tuesday night. And then to jump back in 48 hours later, it’s a tough situation.”
With Franklin’s loss to Sharon on Tuesday, and Meadville’s win over the Knights last night, the Bulldogs leap-frogged Franklin to take second place in Region 5. MASH is now 14-5 overall and 10-4 in the region.
Franklin — which plays Hickory on Saturday afternoon — is a game behind the ’Dogs at 11-9 overall, 9-5 in the region. Farrell and Sharon (both 8-5 in the league) are a game and a half behind the ’Dogs.
“It was two real big wins,” said Price. “But the job is not done. We need to go to Grove City (on Tuesday). And we’ve traditionally had tough games down there. And we have to finish with a team (Oil City, on Feb. 14) that’s already beaten us once.”
Two key figures stood out for the Bulldogs last night. One was senior Trevor Clune, who scored 20-plus points for the third time in four games. Against the Knights, he posted 21 markers and also had eight rebounds.
“These were definitely good wins,” said Clune. “I’m just happy to win them. And now I’m looking forward to the next game, because the next game is important too. We can’t relax. We have to keep playing.”
The other show-stealer was Malik Anderson.
Coming into the fourth quarter, Meadville trailed Franklin 32-29. Anderson — who had two points in the game so far — opened the period with a pull-up jumper in the lane. MASH’s “D” got the stop at the other end. Anderson followed it up with jumper from the base line. The ’Dogs got another stop on defense. And Anderson made the Knights pay for it, knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
With 1:46 elapsed in the fourth, Meadville had moved ahead 36-32 and would not trail again.
Anderson scored 10 points in the fourth and finished the game with a dozen.
The last two games, he said, were, “Good motivation for the team. I feel like we can keep winning like this if we can keep playing ball together and stay in sync.”
Zak Price chipped in with 10 points. Jason Clune scored eight and had a team-best nine rebounds.
Franklin was led by 6-foot-8 center Noah Jones, who scored 18 points. Although, he didn’t make his first field goal until three minutes into the third quarter. He was 0-for-4 from the floor until that point while facing some intense harassment from the Bulldogs defense.
The idea was, said Trevor Clune, “to make it tough on (Jones). Don’t give him any easy looks. Just pressure him and make him earn every basket.”
Clayton Maxon followed with 13 points. Kyle Ritchey added 11.
Ritchey hit a 3-pointer late in the first period and began the second with another 3. Those two shots erased a decent early lead for the Bulldogs. They were up 13-6 in the first. Ritchey’s two buckets made it 13-12.
The two teams went back-and-forth throughout the rest of the second period. Trevor Clune hit a jumper with 2:05 remaining in the second to tie the score at 19-19. Neither team could put together a scoring possession over those last two minutes and that’s where it ended at the half.
The two sides then traded runs in the third quarter. Maxon opened with a layup. But then Trevor Clune sunk back-to-back free throws to push the ’Dogs in front 23-21.
Franklin answered with an eight-point run, book-ended by 3-pointers from Maxon and Isaiah Rutherford. That handed Franklin its biggest lead of the evening, 29-23.
Meadville came up with a response of its own, scoring six straight. Clune capped it off with a 3-pointer to knot the score 29-29 with 1:40 to play. He had eight points in the quarter.
Jones finished the third for Franklin with a lay-up and one of two attempts made at the foul line to give the Knights a 32-29 lead going into the fourth.
Meadville needed a spark. Anderson provided it.
“I just tried to do what I could do so that we could win.” said Anderson.
“I thought Malik had his greatest game,” said coach Price. “He really came through. With Donte out, we needed another scorer in there.”
Anderson’s seven-point outburst seemed to inspire the rest of the Bulldogs. Jones interrupted Meadville’s run with a layup. But the Bulldogs piled on six more points to take a 42-34 lead. Jason Clune had a put-back. Trevor Clune hit a long-distance deuce and Anderson added a pair of freebies.
Franklin managed to get it back to a two-point game at 46-44 with 1:39 to play. But Jason Clune kept them from getting any closer, issuing a pair of blocks on two successive possessions by the Knights, turning the ball back over to the Bulldogs both times.
As the clock wound down, Meadville made enough foul shots to stay in front.
“Typical region game,” said Norm Price. “You go back the last four or five games, every game is like this. Thank God we have them at home. I thought that was a big key, to get these games at home at the end of the year. I wouldn’t want to be playing these games on the road.”
Meadville will next be in action on Saturday when it hosts non-region opponent Central Tech. Tip-off will be at approximately 7:15 p.m.