Kellogg boys basketball
3A State Quarterfinals, Kellogg vs. Kimberly
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 semifinals.
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.
Consolation Semifinals, Kellogg vs. Parma
The Wildcats demonstrated a new-found ability to grind out a game on Friday afternoon when they knocked off the Parma 45-35 in the 3A state consolation semi-finals.
Battling through early foul trouble and the frustration of their previous showing in the opening round, Kellogg showed their depth in a way they hadn’t had to for much of the year.
Kellogg put on a stellar first half offensive performance much like what they did all season long, scoring 32 points in the first 16 minutes (a lot of it coming from the Wildcats bench), but the second half was played at a much different pace.
Going scoreless for the first five minutes of the third quarter, the Wildcats were forced to show their defensive chops. The Panthers managed to pull within three, but the Wildcats rattled off seven quick points to re-extend their lead to nine as they entered the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats effectively ran long, time consuming possessions in the final quarter to ice the ballgame and punch their ticket to the consolation championship.
The slow-down style of play was at times uncomfortable to watch for the Wildcat faithful and it wasn’t necessarily part of the game plan.
“We didn’t plan that at all,” coach Jeff Nearing said with a chuckle. “I know it felt like we kind of stalled there, but we were missing some great looks. Grant (Nearing) had a couple, Tanner (Mueller) had one, but they just weren’t dropping. We stayed patient and hoped we’d get a few good looks and we did.”
The Wildcats also righted a major wrong from Thursday afternoon when they shot eight for 19 from the foul line, instead they shot 10 of 14 against Parma while scoring 16 points off of 14 Panther turnovers.
Tyler Gibbons led the Wildcats with 12 points, while Chase Jerome finished with 10.
Consolation Championship, Kellogg vs. Sugar-Salem
It was a massive matchup on Saturday morning as the Wildcats were set to take on the Sugar-Salem Diggers in the consolation championship game at Meridian High School.
Both teams were the first victims of the two teams that were contending for a state title later that day and both teams had been narrowly defeated in those first games.
In reality, the winner of this game could potentially walk around with the knowledge that they may have taken fourth place, but they were nothing if not equals to whomever cut down the nets later that day.
However, after 32 minutes of play, neither team had relented and the game went into overtime, and then another overtime before Sugar-Salem walked away with a 62-60 win and a state trophy.
The Wildcats were led by three players who took control at various times and made sure that the game remained in the Wildcats control for the majority of the contest.
Early on it was senior Tanner Mueller who got the Wildcats going with quick offense and acrobatic defense.
Then it was Ryan Morgan who took control for the Wildcats, knocking down free throws and becoming a transition threat.
Finally, in overtime it was time for Chase Jerome to shine as he put the team on his back for much of the extra time.
The Wildcats trailed 15-12 after the opening quarter, but came alive in the second quarter to take a 28-23 lead headed into the intermission.
The anxious Kellogg faithful were just praying that the second half woes that had plagued the Wildcats in the first two games of the tournament wouldn’t continue and that the Cats would be able to put the game away as they had some many times.
They got their wish … partly.
The Wildcats did take control, using a slow but effective offense to extend their lead to 11 points as they headed into the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately it was a lead that they would squander.
Sugar-Salem, led by their giant scoring machine Chandler Pincock, would rally and force overtime.
Scoring 23 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and overtime periods, he led an offensive onslaught that the Wildcats simply didn’t have the power to stop.
In the first overtime, Kellogg had two chances at the free throw line to put Sugar-Salem away, but went 0-4 in those attempts.
The second overtime was a grit and grind affair with neither team willing to concede, but the chips ultimately landed in favor of the Diggers who got the last true possession of the ball game with the game tied at 60.
A possession that was played perfectly by both players involved.
Pincock calmly dribbled the ball with 19 seconds remaining, Morgan, the only Wildcat strong enough to challenge the brutish play of the Digger forward, waited for him at the three point line.
Pincock took off with about 7 seconds remaining, dribbling to right baseline before using an deep stepback (mixed with a slight push-off) to take a 12-foot jump shot from behind the basket.
Morgan rose up and contested the shot perfectly, making the already tough shot as uncomfortable as possible for Pincock.
Morgan’s defense was good enough that many in the crowd believed a third overtime was just seconds away, but that hope faded as the ball fell through the net.
The Wildcats would get one last shot with 1.5 seconds remaining, but the look missed the mark and the Diggers had completed the stunning comeback over the Wildcats.
Between shock, sadness, anger, and frustration, I think the Kellogg players and fans alike were confused by what they felt.
This wasn’t supposed to end this way.
It just didn’t (and still doesn’t) sit right with anyone who was in support of the purple and gold and it probably never will.
After a decade of coaching much of this team through AAU and high school, a tearful Jeff Nearing wasn’t afraid to express his sadness at the way it ended, but also how proud he was of a team that has truly been his for the past 10 years.
“The boys worked hard. Sometimes things just don’t go your way, that’s life. I’m proud of these boys, this team, they worked their butts off today,” Nearing said. “This is a special group of boys. If I had to pick between that trophy and just eight more minutes to coach these boys, I’d take the eight minutes, win or lose. They are that special.”
Jerome would finish with 16 points, capping off a marvelous tournament where he averaged 15 points per game for the Wildcats, meanwhile both Morgan and Mueller would finish with 14 points apiece.
The Wildcats finished their season with an 18-5 record.