It was bad enough that the Bellarmine Prep Lions had to play through an early gauntlet of a non-league schedule dotted with teams like Seattle Prep, Gonzaga Prep and a defending California state champion out of San Francisco.
Mix in the fact the team played a majority of it without players who were still recovering from the football team’s run to the Class 4A state championship game and it’s easy to see how the Lions entered Friday night’s meeting with non-league Narrows Class 3A opponent Mount Tahoma with an overall record of 2-7.
But Bellarmine Prep showed plenty of positive signs against the Thunderbirds on the road, getting some key baskets down the stretch and survived a late Mount Tahoma surge to emerge with a 55-51 victory.
“This was so nice ... long overdue,” said Gonzaga recruit Lucas Meikle, who scored a team-high 19 points to go along with his eight rebounds and five blocks.
Senior forward Sefo Liufau, playing in just his third game with the basketball team this year, scored 16 points and pulled down 17 rebounds.
“It’s so nice to have them back,” Meikle said. “The football players are a huge part of the team. They’re finally getting reps at practice.”
Isaiah Flynn added 14 points and seven rebounds for Bellarmine Prep (3-7, 2-1 Narrows 4A), which closes out its non-league run with a Jan. 25 game against Lincoln.
“We didn’t have our full team for the first five weeks,” Bellarmine coach Bernie Salazar said. “We’ve had very few practices with us all together. I can count them on one hand. So it’s just going to take time.”
The Lions needed a gutsy effort in the fourth quarter to hold off Mount Tahoma (7-2 overall) on Friday night. After trailing 45-40 with just over 4 minutes to play, Flynn hit a floater in the lane with 1:04 left, then added a pair of free throws on the next possession to push Bellarmine’s lead to 51-48 with 28 seconds left. After Mount Tahoma’s Andre Wiley hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 53-51 with 18 seconds to go, Meikle hit a pair of clutch free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory.
“Our non-league schedule has been the toughest it has ever been,” Salazar said. “But I honestly think it will pay off for us down the road.”
Wiley led Mount Tahoma with 14 points. Brian Neal added 12 points, but missed a 3-pointer that would have given Mount Tahoma a one-point lead with 2 seconds left.
“Man-to-man pressure brought us back into the game, but second shots continue to be our Achilles heel,” Mount Tahoma coach Owen Chambers said. “On defense we have to do a better job of boxing out. We were outsized (tonight), but I thought our pressure bothered them a little bit.”