The Mehl Man: Bears’ forward scores 23 points to lead Bears to crucial Senior night win

Tuesday’s game was a special delivery for the Bunker Hill basketball team.

Postman Walker Mehl scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, to lead Bunker Hill to a critical conference victory over Maiden on Senior night.

The win keeps the Bears (12-11, 6-7) in the fifth spot in the Catawba Valley 2A and two games ahead of South Iredell.

“We knew how important this win was for us to make the playoffs,” said Bunker Hill coach Matt Wilkinson. “I can’t say enough about Walker’s leadership and the rest of my seniors. They stepped up defensively, made their free throws and made plays in the clutch when it mattered.”

The emotions of the Senior night ceremonies carried into the game for the Bears and they started with an 8-0 lead.

Maiden’s fast paced offensive attack settled in during the late part of the first quarter. That gave the Blue Devils’ scoring opportunities and forced Bunker Hill to make a lot of mistakes.

“I was very concerned at the beginning of the game,” Wilkinson said. “We had difficulty staying in front of them. Athletically, they can get up and down the floor. They have some good outside shooters and a good post game. We struggled match up with them all night I thought.

Leading the charge for Maiden was Will Jenkins, Holden Cox and Nate Johnson, who had two points each. That cut the Bears’ lead to 10-6 after the first quarter.

Momentum carried into the second for the Blue Devils (8-15, 3-10), as they eventually gained their first lead of the game. Two free throws from Jenkins made it 12-10 during the midpoint of the second.

Bunker Hill senior Cole McGraw connected on a 3-pointer on the next trip to give the Bears their first points of the quarter. Bunker Hill held on to the lead for a majority of the quarter and took a 21-18 lead into locker room.

At halftime, Mehl spoke to his teammates to try and inspire them.

“Walker challenged those guys at half time and told them it was their night,” Wilkinson said. “He said they weren’t going to walk out with a loss and that they got beat last year on Senior night. That loss left a bad taste in their mouth and they didn’t want to experience that.”

Possibly the biggest challenge of the game for Bunker Hill was trying to stop Maiden’s fast paced offense.

Wilkinson implemented different types of defenses to try and keep the Maiden offense at bay.

“We were switching between defenses to keep them off balance,” Wilkinson said. “One of the biggest things we have tried to limit their fast break opportunities, slow down the pace and make it a half court game.”

It seemed to work early on, as a zone defense held the Blue Devil’s attack at bay. The Bears were continuing to get chances to score, but could not capitalize.

A Maiden 3-pointer by Jenkins made it a 26-25 game late in the third, but Mehl continued to work in the post. He scored six points in the quarter and extended his team’s lead late to seven points.

Yet another 3-pointer for Maiden though, this time from Jason Gantt, cut the lead down to just 34-30 heading into the final quarter.

Despite Maiden’s fight to try and take the lead, Mehl powered his team on nearly every possession in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points in the quarter and managed to keep his team ahead.

“I knew it was our Senior night and my last time playing at home,” Mehl said. “I just wanted to go out with a bang. Every senior played to their role. I couldn’t have done this without my teammates. Even though I had a good game, the big thing is that we got the win.”

Even more impressive than Mehl’s scoring was an on-court leadership role of keeping his teammates calm and their emotions under control in tight situations.

“I’ve been on this team four years and I know what kind of mistakes that players can make when teams get in the heat of the moment,” Mehl said. “I’ve had seniors come and say things to me. I have learned from the alumni at the school now. I credit them with that.”

That leadership played a big role in keeping the Bears calm in the late stages of the game. Despite closing the gap down to two points in the quarter, Maiden made mistakes late in the quarter, which helped Bunker Hill score points.

Key baskets late in transition by senior Delano Loritts off those steals added to the Bears’ lead, as they held on for the Catawba 2A victory.

“It came down to those seniors and their will to win,” Wilkinson said. “They decided they weren’t going to lose tonight. I am tickled to death to have the opportunity to coach them.”