By Jim Hunter
Norm Price learned one thing about his refreshing Bulldogs on Tuesday night: They stumble and get back on track without much heartache.
After playing three near-perfect quarters of basketball, Meadville lost its fluidness in the fourth period — allowing a 16-point lead to slip to a two-point margin. But they managed to pull it together in the final two minutes for a 60-48 victory over arch-rival Franklin in a pivotal Region 5 clash.
The win moved MASH into a second-place tie with the Knights at 5-1. Hickory leads Region 5 with a 5-0 record.
“This was a big win for us,” said an exhausted Price afterwards. “This is such a great league. I keep preaching to the kids that we have to take it one game at a time. If you don’t, a team will sneak up on you and knock you off. We just won three straight very competitive road league games.”
Before knocking off Franklin, Price & Co. handled George Junior Republic and Farrell last week.
Price’s game plan against the Knights: Play man-to-man defense and run when possible. The ’Dogs followed the script ... at least during the opening 24 minutes of action.
Franklin’s Isaiah Rutherford opened the game with a 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs responded with a 15-2 run to take a 15-5 lead heading into the second stanza.
Seniors Zak Price and Trevor Clune bombed in 3-pointers and Malik Anderson scored four points off the bench.
Defensively, MASH dominated. With rugged Jake Gregor handling Franklin’s 6-foot-8 center Noah Jones underneath, the Knights made only 2-of-12 shots from the floor.
Speaking of Gregor, the junior forward capped off the Bulldogs’ outstanding first half with a three-point play to give the ’Dogs a 22-10 halftime lead.
MASH’s dynamic duo of Clune and Price took over in the third quarter.
Clinging to a 26-16 lead, Clune gave the Bulldogs some breathing room by scoring on a drive and converting a three-point play after sinking a pull-up jumper, giving the ‘Dogs a 31-16 lead with 4:28 remaining in the third quarter.
Price, who slightly sprained his right ankle in the second quarter, closed third-period action with a bang — bombing in a 3-pointer and scoring on a drive to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 39-23 heading into the final quarter.
A MASH blowout, right? Not quite.
Taking advantage of some errant shots by the Bulldogs, Franklin went on a 13-2 run in the opening four minutes to cut Meadville’s lead to 41-36.
Then, the Knights’ Kyle Richey completed a three-point play to close the gap to 45-43 with 2:39 left in the game.
“We became our worst enemy ... shooting ill-advised shots and turning the ball over,” said Price.
Price and Clune to the rescue.
“We regrouped by getting the ball in the hands of Zak and Trevor,” said Price.
With Price and Clune handling Franklin’s press, the Bulldogs preserved the “W” by making 15-of-16 free throws in the final two minutes. Price was seven-for-eight and Anderson, Trevor Clune, Jason Clune and Gregor were two-for-two.
Price — topping 20 points for the ninth straight game — paced Meadville with 22. The Clune brothers (Trevor and Jason) also hit double digits with 12 and 10, respectively. Trevor Clune was a beast on the boards with 13. Gregor grabbed seven caroms.
Jones led Franklin in scoring with 16 points.
Meadville will host Grove City Tuesday at the House of Thrills.