With just over 2-minutes remaining in regulation, every person inside Meridian High School knew the Kellogg Wildcats were going to advance to the 3A state semi-finals.
But then things got weird.
Kellogg coach Jeff Nearing called a timeout with the Wildcats leading Kimberly 44-41.
The Wildcats were essentially one inbounds play away from clinching their spot, but an errant pass led to a quick score for Kimberly and suddenly the Wildcats were on their heels.
Kimberly’s senior leader Trey Garey, proceeded to ice the ballgame with made free throws, meanwhile Kellogg struggled at the line and ultimately fell to the Bulldogs 48-45.
Nearing has always been a proponent of winning games one quarter at a time and also knew firsthand how one bad quarter can alter a game.
“You can’t shoot seven of 17 from the free throw line in the second half of a close game,” Nearing said. “All it takes is one bad quarter to lose a ballgame. We came out flat in the third quarter and it really hurt us.”
Kellogg led 24-21 after the first half and extended that lead to five early in the third frame, but then a nine point run from the Bulldogs changed the trajectory of the game.
It was 35-33 in favor of Kimberly as the final quarter began and it was Chase Jerome and Ryan Morgan who were dragging the Wildcats toward the finish line, but that was when the aforementioned chaos ensued.
A deep pass from Jerome that was intended for Tyler Gibbons was stolen and trimmed Kellogg’s lead to one.
A bad Wildcat possession led to a foul that put Garey at the line where he knocked down both shots to steal the lead away.
Kellogg tried every trick in the book to overcome their late three point deficit after Kimberly used intentional fouls to keep the Wildcats from attempting any threes.
Reserve guard Trevor Bumgardner literally broke his own tooth attempting to get a decent shot off, but after his scary fall he was helped off the floor and after two missed free throws from Kellogg their title aspirations were over.
Despite the unwelcome outcome, Nearing and company are still in the running for fourth place and that is definitely worth fighting for.
“They were patient and they took care of the ball,” Nearing said of his opponent. “We just needed to hit some shots and we didn’t. The effort was there, the energy was there, we just couldn’t hit our shots when it counted. The journey may have changed, but we still have a tourney to finish.”
Chase Jerome finished the game as the only Wildcat in double digits with 19 points, while Grant Nearing chipped in eight points of his own.
The Wildcats will take on Parma on Friday at 1:15 p.m. (12:15 PST) at Meridian High School where they still have a shot at getting to the consolation championship game on Saturday.