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Beaten by the three

Oscoda’s season ends with regional final loss

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Oscoda senior Gavin Lueck (21) takes a shot over Sanford Meridian defender Brett Barriger (32) during the second quarter of a Division 3 boys regional championship basketball game on Thursday at Houghton Lake High School.

HOUGHTON LAKE–Three point shooting can make or break a team, especially in the postseason.

On Thursday, the hot three point shooting of the No. 7 ranked Sanford Meridian Mustangs broke the heart of the Oscoda Owls and ended their dream season.

The Mustangs (23-1) connected on 14 shots from beyond the three point line in a Division 3 regional championship contest and cruised to a 65-44 victory over Oscoda (24-1) to claim the title.

“We knew it was going to a tall task coming into the game. We have a lot of respect for Sanford, they spread the ball well and shot the lights out tonight,” Oscoda coach Seth Alda said. “Any time any team shoots as well as they did tonight, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

Oscoda opened the game strong at both ends of the floor, scoring the first fivepoints in the game, but the Owls’ tight defense soon got exploited by a Meridian team that did a tremendous job spreading the ball around and creating open shots.

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Oscoda’s Jacob Post (12) goes up for a shot while being defended by Sanford Meridian’s Brett Barriger (32) during the first quarter.

When the Mustangs got the open looks, they rarely missed and drilled a total of seven triples in the first half.

Meridian held a 15-12 lead after an intense opening quarter, but it was the second quarter that proved to be the difference as the Mustangs revved up the defensive with a suffocating press that held Oscoda to just four points in the quarter.

Meridian scored 13 of the last 15 points of the half and senior Lucas Lueder poured in all 12 of his points in the first half to help the Mustangs take a 31-16 lead into the break.

“The second quarter killed us. We were really stagnant offensively. The matchup zone was a different look for us tonight and it was something we had to get used to,” Alda said. “We got a little down ourselves, but picked it up and did what we could to get back in the game, but just didn’t have enough.”

Oscoda began to figure its offense out in the third quarter and got into a rhythm, but every time the Owls tried to close the gap, Meridian responded with big shots from behind the three point line.

Oscoda got to within 10 points late in the third quarter, but made a costly mistake with 1.8 seconds remaining.

The Owls threw the inbound pass away and Brett Barriger pocked up the ball and quickly released a shot that went in to beat the buzzer and give the Mustangs a 47-35 lead and more momentum headed to the final quarter.

Barriger finished with a game high 18 points and Meridian made four more threes in the final quarter to extend the lead and eventually run away with the win and crown itself the regional champion.

Trey Plichta added 16 points for the Mustangs as Lueder, Barriger and Plichta each scored in double digits and hit a combined 10 threes in the game.

Meridian advances to play in Tuesday’s quarterfinal game where they will look to beat another unbeaten team, Iron Mountain.

Oscoda was led by Gabe Kellstrom who tried to lead a second half surge, scoring 10 of his team-leading 13 points in the second half. Jacob Post finished with 12 points and Owen Franklin added 11 points.

Unfortunately Oscoda’s first loss brought to an end a incredible record-breaking season.

The Owls set a school record for wins in a season and won league and district championships before coming up just short in the regional title game.

The future is still bright for Oscoda who will return a majority of its scoring as the Owls only graduate three seniors off of this team.

“I’m so happy for our seniors. They obviously went out on a high note. We won a conference title, beat our rivals every time, went 20-0, extended it to 24 after winning districts. It was a great year for sure,” Alda said. “We took a few steps and got a lot better this year. Nine more months we’ll be right back it and next year, hopefully we’ll be on the other end of this.”

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BOX SCORE: Field goals made/Free-throws attempted/Free-throws made/Total points

SANFORD MERIDIAN (65): L. Lueder, 4 1-3 12; T. Plichta, 4 4-4 16; G. Brady, 2 1-2 5; G. White, 1 0-0 2; B. Harriger, 6 1-2 18; H. Merillat, 3 0-0 8; K. Stockford, 2 0-0 4.

OSCODA (44): G. Kellstrom, 5 1-2 13; B. Mallak, 2 1-2 5; O. Franklin, 5 0-0 11; J. Post, 6 0-0 12; G. Lueck, 1 0-2 3.