This time last year, Meadville's 10-year reign as champion of the Northwestern Invitational Tournament came to a close at the hands of Linn County. The Eagles had won 32 consecutive games in the tournament.
On Saturday night, with a 67-64 victory over the Eagles, the Mustangs began a two-year streak of their own before a fervent, over-capacity crowd in Mendon.
Saturday night's championship game was, by all standards, phenomenal. The game featured 11 lead changes and three ties, and down the stretch, with under a minute remaining, the Eagles turned an eight-point deficit into a one-possession difference.
"We've matured enough to the point where, once we can handle those runs, we can do a great job of controlling momentum against really strong teams like Meadville," Linn County coach Jason White said. "My kids have a green light to shoot, and if anyone's wondering about that, I think we put that to rest tonight."
In total, there were 21 three-pointers knocked down in Saturday night's championship. Linn County hit 12 of them.
With 31 seconds remaining in the game, Meadville's Dominik Gannan knocked down a three-pointer to bring his team back within 67-62 before Meadville coach Drew Nier burned a time out. Gannan was scalding-hot on Saturday, knocking down six three-pointers and finishing with 32 points, including 20 in the first half. On the possession following Gannan's potentially game-reclaiming bucket, the Eagles utilized their full-court set to record a steal and convert it into a layup.
Down just one score, Meadville was unable to get any kind of look as time expired.
Behind Gannan's game-high, Meadville's Jordan Schmitz finished with 14 points. Conner Fletcher posted 11, and leading-scorer Dillon Seckington was held to just four.
"I thought defensively, we'd play with more energy, but to their credit, they knocked down a ton of shots," Nier said. "Some of them were really deep and deflating, and meanwhile, they did a good job of not letting our guys get going. Fortunately, Dominik and Jordan stepped up to give us a boost, but we have to find more ways to get our guys freed up.
"That final minute is not really something you really prepare for on the fly, and we did a good job of giving ourselves a chance."
Linn County guard Michael O'Kane and forward Chadley Waltz led their team in scoring with 16 points. O'Kane knocked down a pair of crucial three-pointers down the stretch, especially a 30-foot bomb -- a dagger that extended his team's lead back to five points with just over two minutes remaining.
Kade Ward finished with 15 points, all three-pointers, and Jase White finished with 14.
"We knew what we had to do (in the final minute) to get through the press, but we still turned over the ball," Ward said. "That being said, we didn't shut down, so I'm proud of us for that, and we told each other we weren't going to let them beat us. We knew that surge was coming.
"We executed all night, and we kept up with our pace. We played pretty good defense, and looking at tonight, we'll definitely be fine if we can improve our defense. It really is amazing to win this thing again though, our guys love the game and we've worked hard all summer to get here."