Mountaineers turn corner after rough patch, beat Vikings


RAINIER — Just about everything that could go wrong in the first six minutes of the third quarter for the Rainier boys basketball team against Mabton on Friday, did.

The Mountaineers threw the ball out of bounds, or straight to the Vikings, or to teammates who just couldn’t seem to catch it. They missed layups, they gave up offensive rebounds. And after going into halftime up by five, soon everybody wearing orange and black was getting flashbacks to Tuesday, when they blew a 16-point lead in three hellish minutes in a loss to Wahkiakum.

But this time around, Rainier had the answer. After giving up the lead and going down by as many as six, the Mountaineers turned the tide and never looked back, leaving the Vikings in the dust in a 55-45 win.

“That felt good,” Rainier coach Ben Sheaffer said. “I’m not going to lie, we were disappointed with the way the Wahkiakum game ended. When you play 28 minutes of good ball and then let it slip away, it’s frustrating. But the kids responded to the things we talked about in practice, especially time and score, and valuing possession of the ball. So we’re really happy with that response.”

With 1:32 left in the third, Matthew Kenney hit a pair of much-needed free throws to cut Mabton’s lead to 36-32. After a stop on the defensive end, the offense found Jimmy Meldrum open under the basket, and with just 43 seconds left on the clock, the junior guard scored the hosts’ first field goal of the period.

But Rainier was only getting started.

Mabton missed a pair of free throws, and Johnny Boesch hit a 3-pointer to give Rainier back. Before the Vikings could get the ball back up the court, Josh Meldrum came away with a steal, and hit a layup as the buzzer rang to make it a 39-36 game.

It was a 9-0 run in a matter of 90 seconds, and it completely flipped the game on its head.

In the third quarter, Rainier turned the ball over seven times. In the fourth, with the lead back in hand, the Mountaineers gave it away only twice — and forced eight takeaways of their own.

“We started moving the ball a little bit better against their zone and got some easy ones inside,” Sheaffer said. “I think the biggest thing is just that we were being more patient and playing together.”

Mabton tied the game back up with a 3-pointer to start the fourth, but the Rainier offense went back to work, running as smoothly as possible to retake control with a 9-2 run, including three easy buckets from Jimmy Meldrum for six of his 13 points on the night.

“Jimmy looked really good in the zone offense,” Sheaffer said. “He was getting loose on the baseline, and we made some great passes to him cutting underneath.”

Boesch also scored 13 points, while Josh Meldrum had 11.

Jared Sprouffske led the Mountaineers on the boards with seven rebounds, while Kenney and Jake Meldrum both had six.

Rainier will come right back to work at home Saturday afternoon, facing defending state runners-up Brewster. Then, they’ll be off most of next week, before facing North Beach next Friday.