The last time the Chico boys varsity basketball team won a postseason game none of the current team members were even in pre-school yet.
But they looked like playoff veterans Tuesday night when the Dragons snapped a 15-year postseason drought with a convincing 54-46 win over the Meridian Yellowjackets in a bi-district playoff game in Brock.
The game marked the team’s first trip to the postseason in 11 years.
“It was all them,” said a smiling Ken Thompson, Chico’s head coach, after the game. “I’m just along for the ride.”
Firepower from the two Dragon seniors left Meridian cold on the court.
“Our two seniors, Hunter Clarke and Dylan Hightower, played well tonight,” Thompson said. “How they go, we go.”
Chico’s offense was on fire early on, producing 16 points in the first quarter. Nine of those came from the senior Clarke. He made a trio of 3-point shots in the quarter. Meridian kept pace with the scoring though.
Both teams cooled in the second quarter, and the squads went into halftime with Chico holding a slight edge at 25-24.
Chico played aggressive defense in the third quarter, making several key blocks and a host of defensive rebounds. The team held Meridian to eight points in the quarter.
“They are bigger than us,” Thompson said. “We had to play good zone defense and get rebounds. We also had to shoot well.”
Clarke led all scorers with 20. In the second half he made a flurry of assists, feeding the ball again and again to fellow senior Hightower.
“We just had to trust each other,” Clarke said. “It feels good to bring it home.”
Hightower was the second-leading scorer with 17. His steady shooting in the final quarter ensured Chico’s victory.
Hightower got hot at the right time. He scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of threes that silenced the loud Meridian crowd.
With about seven minutes left in the final quarter, Meridian was well within striking distance with the game a close 41-37. But that’s when Hightower got hot. He scored on a deep three to start his run. Moments later, after a Meridian turnover for stepping out of bounds, Hightower took a pass from Matt Carter to drive on an easy lay-up.
Chico got the ball back again, and Clarke passed the ball to an open Hightower. Standing behind the three-point line in the center of the court, Hightower swished the shot, giving Chico a 49-37 lead with 5:35 left in the game.
It was Chico’s largest lead of the night and enough points to keep Meridian out of reach for good.
Others Chico scorers included Hunter York with eight, Carter with seven and Chris Gilmore with two.
At the end of the game, the loyal crowd of Chico students and parents who traveled to Brock stormed the court and celebrated with the players. Hightower hoisted the trophy above his head and yelled in triumph as fans cheered around him.
“It felt awesome,” Hightower said of the victory. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
The win moved Chico to 17-14 for the season. They were to play Stamford Friday night at Graham in the second round of the playoffs. Stamford is 16-2 overall. They went a perfect 10-0 in district and have won 13 straight games.