TACOMA — Top-ranked Enumclaw knows how to close out games, so the undefeated Hornets didn’t panic when the Meadowdale boys basketball team patiently chipped away at a 19-point second-quarter deficit.
Enumclaw, winners of four games decided by five points or fewer this season, held off a second-half charge by the Mavericks to seal a 49-43 tournament opening win Wednesday at the Tacoma Dome.
Meadowdale senior Connor Hamlett scored 12 second-half points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the Mavericks refused to go down facing a 15-point halftime deficit.
“I was frustrated in the first half, I had good looks I just wasn’t finishing,” Hamlett said. “In the second half, we came out and I was playing more confident, I was knocking down some shots and feeling better.
“We always say, ‘Don’t fold,’ you keep chipping away, get down six or seven in the fourth quarter and then make it a game at the end,” the senior post added. “It’s state basketball, so if you come out with a lot of energy you can make a big run and get back in it — which we had a chance to do at the end.”
Riley Neff-Warner (12 points) connected on two 3-pointers late in the game to cut the lead by Enumclaw (25-0 overall) to three points. However, Meadowdale (19-7) couldn’t get closer as Taylor Myers (14 points) and two-time South Puget Sound League 3A MVP Riley Carel (eight points, four rebounds) made clutch shots to maintain the lead.
“We got ourselves in position and cut it to three a couple times, we just weren’t able to get over the hump,” Meadowdale’s eighth-year head coach Chad McGuire said. “We just saw the ball roll around the rim one too many times.”
Hamlett, a 6-foot-7 Oregon State University football recruit and the main conduit in Meadowdale’s offense had trouble early against Enumclaw’s 6-foot-6 post Tarren VanTrojen.
Hamlett finished with 18 points and was 7-for-17 from the floor while VanTrojen had 16 points and six rebounds to lead the Hornets.
“Everyone’s been talking all week about how I’ve gotta play big in this game, especially after last year (a 47-41 loss to Meadowdale in the second round),” VanTrojen said. “It was a lot of pressure, but it felt good to step up and come through.”
“They’re one of the best, if not the best, defensive teams in the state. They’re physical, they play great position defense with great fundamentals and they made Hamlett work for every possession,” McGuire said of Enumclaw’s tactics on Hamlett. “Sometimes they would double him, sometimes they wouldn’t and they forced him to shoot tough shots.”
A relentless attack on Enumclaw’s man-to-man defense didn’t yield success in the first half for the Mavericks, the District 1 No. 2 seed. Meadowdale shot just 11.1 percent from the field (3-for-27) — including missing all seven of its shots from the 3-point line — helping the Hornets claim a big lead.
Meadowdale displayed some character and resilience, however, outscoring Enumclaw 29-20 in the second half while out-rebounding the Hornets 43-23, including 22-4 on the offensive boards.
A final four team last year before losing to Seattle’s Franklin High, Meadowdale still has a chance to grab a trophy and the highest finish in program history.
“I think we have high character and respond to adversity well because not a lot of teams can come back from a 15-point lead against the first-ranked team in the state,” Hamlett said.
“It showed a lot of heart, a lot of character, for us to come back and make a game out of it,” McGuire added.
Meadowdale, which beat Enumclaw in the second round last year, has placed sixth three times, including last season, but the program can place fifth if it finds a way to win the rest of the way.
Enumclaw, meanwhile, will be chasing an undefeated record and state title.
“They (Meadowdale) were relentless on the glass. … We just got a little stagnant (on offense), I think, and lost some of our aggressiveness, but that’s state tournament basketball — you do the best you can to compete and if you survive you feel pretty good about it,” Enumclaw head coach Phil Engebretsen said.
At the Tacoma Dome
Meadowdale — Neff-Warner 12, Linton 0, Werner 2, Beucherie 8, Tallman 0, Dooley 0, Sand 1, Buck 2, Hamlett 18. Enumclaw — Lewis 4, Waters 0, Clyde 5, Myers 14, Carel 8, VanTrojen 16, Maloney 0, Goch 2. 3-pointers — Neff-Warner 2, Beucherie 1, Clyde 1, Myers 3. Records — Meadowdale 19-7 overall. Enumclaw 25-0.