By: Aidan Joly
Grinding out wins is not something that Saratoga has had to get used to this season. Saturday, they had to but were able to as they held off Mekeel Christian at the Cool Insuring Arena, a game that was part of the second annual Sunmark Shootout, by a final score of 76-65.
The two teams traded leads throughout the first half with Mekeel up by one at the break, but it seemed like Saratoga was set to roll away early on in the second as they went on a 12-0 run to open the second half and ended the run with a 45-34 lead.
Mekeel slowly chipped away at the lead, and cut it to six heading into the final quarter of play. Down eight early on in the fourth, the Lions went on a 9-0 run, putting them right back into the game, holding a 60-59 lead with under five minutes remaining.
“I know they’re not going to go away, they’re a determined group that’s used to winning so we knew they were going to make a run,” Saratoga head coach Matt Usher said of Mekeel’s run early on in the fourth.
The teams traded baskets, and Mekeel made it 63-61 in their favor on a three from Jordan Jackson with just over four minutes to play, only for Andrew Patnode to answer with a score to knot the game up at 63. Patnode was one of five Blue Streaks in double figures, finishing with 10 points on the day.
The tie was as close as Mekeel got for the rest of the afternoon. Saratoga went on a 13-2 run to close out the game including key scores from Brian Hart and a three from AJ Lawton after Mekeel had made it a two-point game.
“Finished some tough shots inside and had some big free throws, so it doesn’t matter who it is as long as the guys are playing hard, sharing the ball. When we do that, we’re a good team,” Usher said.
Hart finished with a team-high 18 points, while Lawton had 10. Nick Chudy was also key the whole way for Saratoga with 17, and Will Fox scored 10 points. Mekeel was led on offense by Deonte Holder who had 21 points and Jackson, who had 19. Carter Stewart also had 15 points.
Usher noted that playing in Glens Falls was good for the team as the building will host both the sectional semifinals and finals in early March, somewhere the team could very well be. He said that it helped to play there in terms of getting the team familiar with the building and atmosphere.
“This was a great experience for us, obviously a good game against a good team,” he said.
Saratoga improves to 15-2 with the win. They will play again on Tuesday, on the road against Niskayuna. That game will begin at 7 p.m.
Mekeel Christian falls to 13-3. They will also be back in action on Tuesday, also on the road, but against La Salle. Tip-off for that game is set for 6:30 p.m.