Meadow Heights' Tyler Welker and Saxony Lutheran's Chris Roth battle for a rebound during the first quarter Monday at Saxony Lutheran.
The Panthers then held on for dear life during the final 8 minutes, barely escaping after the Crusaders scored 35 points in the final quarter.
"To be up 22, or however much we were up by, and then come and lose it, I was just hoping it wouldn't happen because it's happened before," Meadow Heights senior Tyler Welker said.
Welker poured in 19 points and Dustin Hubler netted 16 points to help the Panthers escape with a 71-70 upset victory over the Crusaders at Saxony Lutheran High School.
Meadow Heights improved to 10-7, while Saxony, the No. 7 ranked team in Class 2, dropped to 16-3.
Saxony Lutheran's Garrett Fritsche tries to get off a shot against Meadow Heights during the first quarter Monday at Saxony Lutheran.
Meadow Heights' 2-2-1 full-court pressure defense helped it build a 20-point halftime lead, and the defensive pressure saved the Panthers in the closing minute when they missed four of their last six free throws.
"When [the defense] is working well, we can play well because our offense is made on our defense," Brown said. "We score off our defense. If we don't score off our defense, then we don't score well. And I really thought tonight we really played well on defense and that helped us score."
Meadow Heights, which led by as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter, clung to a 10-point lead at 67-57 with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining.
But Saxony went on a 7-0 run to bring it to within 67-64. During the stretch, Bryant Steffens netted two consecutive 3-pointers from the same spot on the court.
"We didn't expect it to get that close at the end," Hubler said. "That was definitely stressful. They're a good team and they were home. We weren't as good on defense in the fourth quarter and we let them hit the 3s. They played better defense and got better looks off their shots."
Meadow Heights maintained a three-point lead into the final minute. And during the final minute, Meadow Heights kept fouling the Crusaders each time they got the ball in order to force them to shoot free throws instead of 3-pointers.
The Panthers' Ethan Mayfield also made a steal in the final 10 seconds, but he was immediately fouled and missed both his shots from the charity stripe.
The Crusaders did get off one final shot. Garrett Fritsche took the ball downcourt with fewer than 4 seconds left and chucked up a shot right near the 3-point line. It ricocheted off the backboard and the Panthers side exploded with cheers.
"They outplayed us in the first half something awful," Saxony coach Sam Sides said. "They were a step quicker. They were a step quicker the whole game. We had a hard time guarding their guards. We couldn't guard them basically. And then [Welker] killed us early in the game. We couldn't keep him off the boards. I bet he had five offensive rebounds early in the game. ... They were the aggressor."
Welker was aggressive on offense and defense in the first half. He made steals, grabbed rebounds, and was shooting from different spots, including converting two 3-pointers.
"He started off this year slow," Brown said about Welker. "He's a very strong player and we were waiting for him to start hitting that 3, and the last four games he's been averaging in double figures and rebounding like crazy. I love his rebounding and he's got a great attitude."
Saxony converted just 22 of 35 free throws.
"If we could have made some more in the first half it would have kept us a little bit closer," Sides said.
MEADOW HEIGHTS (71) — Dustin Hubler 16, Derrick Wilfong 11, Luke Nitsch 2, Ethan Mayfield 10, Zac Hotop 13, Tyler Welker 19 . FG 24, FT 17-28, F 22. (3-pointers: Welker 2, Hotop 2, Mayfield 1, Wilfong 1)
SAXONY LUTHERAN (70) — Trevor Mabuce 5, Kris Cook 3, Chris Roth 20, Bret Steffens 19, Bryant Steffens 17, Garrett Fritsche 6. FG 20, FT 22-35, F 22. (3-pointers: Bryant Steffens 5, Fritsche 1, Cook 1, Mabuce 1)