NAMPA — After seeing its state title repeat dreams end in a double overtime loss to Owyhee last year in the state semifinals, the Meridian boys basketball team twice was unable to exact revenge during the season.
Third time was the luck charm, and on the biggest of stages, too.
The Warriors finally got the better of the Storm Thursday in the opening round of the 5A State Tournament, coming away with a 51-48 overtime victory to move on to the semifinals for a third straight season.
“We knew we could beat these guys from the beginning,” said junior Ryan Baker, who had 28 points to pace the Warriors. “We know how good we are, we’ve known that from the start of the year. We just had to come in with confidence and that’s what we did.”
When the Warriors (15-11) hosted the Storm (19-6) on Dec. 21, it was Owyhee that came away with a 19-point victory. Last week in the 5A District III semifinal, Owyhee once again came away with a big win, this time by a 23-point victory.
But when the teams took the floor at the Ford Idaho Center Thursday, it was a much different story.
“We’ve got a lot of pride, nobody wants to get run out of the gym,” Meridian coach Jeff Sanor said. “We were pretty upset and we tried to use that as fuel to play our hardest.”
The Warriors did just that, even after falling behind big in the first half. Owyhee used an 11-2 run midway through the second quarter to take a double-digit led. A basket by Reece Sasser-Gunson made it 25-14 late in the quarter. The Storm led 27-16 at half.
“We know we’re strong enough to take any runs, especially that second quarter one,” said Baker. “We just came back to the locker room, did what we had to do and came back in the second half.”
Barker really got the comeback going midway through the third quarter. With 4:12 on the clock, and Meridian still trailing 30-22, he hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five. Then at the end of the third, he sank another 3, cutting Owyhee’s lead to 32-30 entering the final frame.
With 6:21 left in regulation, Baker hit a basket and was fouled, hit the ensuing free throw and gave Meridian a 33-32 lead.
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“He works his tail off,” said Sanor. “Not just at practice. There are unseen hours that Ryan put in and they’re paying off for him big time.”
It’s been quite the week for Baker, the Warriors’ leading scorer who seemingly has taken the team on his back and kept their season going. On Saturday, he hit the game-winning basket for Meridian in a state play-in game against Lewiston.
On Thursday he had 17 of his 28 points in the second half.
“He’s a phenomenal player, he’s always going hard and he’s very competitive,” said senior Josh Christensen, who had 10 points for the Warriors. “He always keeps his cool. Sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s going hard, but he’s going harder than anyone else.”
Griffin Deere hit a basket for Meridian with 2:12 left in regulation to tie the game at 41. That was the last points until overtime, as Owyhee held the ball from there for the last shot, but was unable to convert.
In overtime, the Warriors never trailed as the Christensen opened the scoring with a pair of free throws and Baker hit a basket to put Meridian ahead 45-41.
Owyhee didn’t score until the final minute of the overtime period. Baker hit two free throws with 7.7 seconds left on the clock and Meridian forced the Storm to turn the ball over, ending the game.
Meridian will be back at the Ford Idaho Center at noon today for a semifinal game against Mountain View.
“I’m really proud of our program and I think it says a lot about our sophomore roster and our JV program,” Sanor said about getting to the semifinals for a third year in a row, with a new core group of players. “We put guys on the JV for a reason and there are very specific instructions given to our junior varsity coach on how to prepare these guys for what they’re going to face when they get to varsity.”
Liam Campbell had 24 points to lead Owyhee, which will play Timberline in the consolation semifinal at 5 p.m. today at Rocky Mountain High.