BEAVERTON, Ore.-- Trailing by one with just over four seconds remaining, Southridge point guard McKelle Meek knew that she was going to be the one to take the final shot before she even received the ball.
On Tuesday night Meek called her own number with the game on the line, taking on the defense and banking in a contested lay-in at the buzzer to help the Skyhawks (7-3) defeat the Central Catholic Rams 51-50 in their penultimate preseason game.
“I didn’t know how much time there was left, I just knew the shot had to go in,” Meek said.
While the play wasn’t exactly drawn up for her, Meek was confident that if she could drive deep enough into the lane she’d have a good chance to make the shot. It turned out that she was right. The lay-in capped off a 20-point performance and was yet another excellent outing in what is starting to become a season full of them for the senior.
But before Meek hit the shot it was Central Catholic that thought they had just completed a momentum-building come-back road victory. After trailing by double-digits late into the second half, the Rams took advantage of a second-chance opportunity when senior Claire Bass knocked down a three to give Central Catholic (4-6) a 50-49 lead.
And, after trailing the entire game, it was sophomore Payton Allen that helped the Rams complete their comeback. In consecutive possessions, the guard knocked down a three to bring the score to within two before converting in transition to tie the game at 43. Allen finished the night with nine points, all coming in the second half.
“Being able to rally late says that we’re not a team that gives up,” Central Catholic senior Tiana Abraham said. “This game is definitely one that sets the tone for how we want to play the rest of the season, and it shows that we’re fighters and we’re willing to get down and do the hard work.”
Without Abraham, the Rams may have been done as soon as the first half ended. Whether it be turnovers, missed lay-ins, or fouls, the Rams just couldn’t seem to get going and faced an eleven-point halftime deficit. However, in the third quarter, Abraham couldn’t miss. She made pull-up threes from multiple feet beyond the arc, nailed every pull-up jumper, and converted multiple free-throws as she scored 14 of her game-high 21 points in the second half.
“I think it was our defense struggling to get back,” senior Kaylen Blair said. “We let them get too many wide-open buckets, especially in transition, and we fouled too many times, but we kept up our pressure, especially in the second quarter.”
Added Meek: “In the third quarter we could have played better defensively I thought, but we were able to pull it out.”
Despite a slow second half, the Skyhawks were in the game down the stretch because of the mostly-insurmountable lead that they built in the first half through second-chance opportunities and stellar shooting.
Blair scored the Skyhawks’ first six points and knocked down all five of her first-half three-point attempts to finish with fifteen points on the night. While the Rams focused on Meek, it was Blair that made the visitors pay for leaving Southridge’s perimeter players open.
“She’s a great shooter and I think that helped our confidence a lot,” Meek said. “I was running plays for her because I knew she was on fire.”
“We were thinking that Meek was going to be shooting, so when [Blair] came out hitting we had to adjust our defense around her,” Abraham said. “We decided that we needed to lock her down to make sure that she didn’t score anymore. I felt like we did a good job of that in the second half.”
While the Skyhawks did enough to avoid a last-minute collapse against the Rams, they know that they cannot afford to take their foot off the gas every week, especially if they want to make another run to the Chiles Center.
The schedule only gets tougher from here. The Skyhawks travel to Portland at the end of the week to take on 5A La Salle to conclude their non-league portion of the schedule before beginning their Metro League campaign.
But, as always, the Skyhawks have a talented core with players like Meek, junior Maya Hoff, and Blair that are capable of helping their team to yet another deep run. On Tuesday night that talent shone through.
“You can always count on McKelle,” Blair said with a smile.
Indeed they can.