JUNCTION — Webber took a double-digit lead to start the final half, but Meridian rallied for a 74-69 Friday night victory in the 1A sectional final matchup.
After trailing 11-2 early, Webber found a foothold in the game. The Trojans trailed by two points after the opening quarter but grabbed a lead to start the second quarter. Weston Hails drilled a 3-pointer to put Webber up 17-16.
The Trojans led throughout the second quarter and went into halftime up 38-30.
Roderic Gatewood powered the Bobcats offense. He led all scorers with 38 points on 12 of 28 shooting. Webber tried to force Gatewood to attack from well behind the 3-point arc. The Trojans used a zone defense with their 6-8 center Hunter Danberry at the top.
“We’re tipping our hat to him,” Webber coach Brad Beaty said. “That’s an amazing talent right there. And he seems like a good kid. And we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Gatewood repeatedly fired up long 3-pointers. He connected on eight deep shots in the game.
Webber countered Gatewood with the duo of Danberry and freshman Nathaniel Marlow. Danberry ended with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Meridian had trouble matching Danberry’s size in the post.
“The pace is just like a track meet and for him to be able to stay on the court, I keep asking him how are you doing?” Beaty said. “(He said) coach, don’t take me out.
“I’m proud of him. He’s worked hard on his body to get to that point where he can stay in a game like this.”
Marlow led Webber with 21 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds. He helped the Trojans with vital buckets in the opening quarter after the Bobcats got off to their quick starts. Marlow scored eight points in the opening period.
“In that kind of atmosphere in that game, he’s going to be something else to watch too,” Beaty said.
Weston Hails also cracked double digits with 12 points and eight rebounds. Cole Kaufman ended with 14 points for Meridian.
The Trojans stretched out a 38-30 lead going into halftime. Hails scored on a putback in the final seconds to give Webber its eight-point cushion. The lead jumped to double digits when Danberry scored to start the second half.
Webber still led by seven points deep into the third quarter, but Meridian finished the frame with a run. The Bobcats ripped off a 7-0 run and evened the game 50-50 going into the last quarter.
The lead changed hands three times before Meridian took it for good at the 3:30 mark. Kaufman scored to give his team a 60-59 edge. Webber stayed close over the final three minutes, but Meridian pushed the margin out to eight points in the final seconds.
Elijah Marlow and Nathaniel Marlow scored on back-to-back buckets to close the gap to 72-69 with 1.5 seconds left.
Webber finished the season with a 23-12 overall record. Meridian advanced to the 1A super sectional.
“Only two groups of men can sit down at a school reunion or a school dinner and talk about playing in a sectional championship game,” Beaty said. “Us and the 2005 team and nobody else in school history can sit down and talk about that.”